Risks of mercury on physiology and behaviour of Barnacle goslings (Barnacle_Merc)

In this project results of an earlier experiment on the potential risks of mercury for Arctic gees will be verified. Deeper mechanistic insights are needed to understand the effects shown in that study, at unexpectedly low exposure levels of mercury. This information will help better protection of the terrestrial Arctic ecosystem to chemical risks.

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  • field work


  • terrestrial biology
  • other

Project Keywords

  • biosphere / terrestrial ecosystems / alpine/tundra
  • human dimensions / environmental impacts / heavy metals
  • human dimensions / environmental impacts / contaminants
  • human dimensions / environmental impacts / mine drainage
  • human dimensions / environmental impacts / environmental assessments

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In 2014 a first field experiment was conducted to assess effects of exposure of barnacle goslings to mercury in a mining area near Ny Alesund, Svalbard. Mercury is a neurotoxic chemical, which may also induce general toxic effects including effects in the immune system. In the pilot study, goslings were shepherded daily to a contaminated and a control site for almost four weeks. During the experiment several behavioural observations were done, individually and at group level. At termination of the experiment, the birds were sacrificed and several samples collected. The experiment was extremely productive, resulting in three papers 1-3. In short the results were as follows: • Environmental Hg-concentration were higher in the mining areas, although still very low compared to other more industrialised areas. The concentrations were similar to other Arctic sites. • Hepatic concentrations in the goslings were significantly higher in mine exposed birds • No significant differences in immune response were detectable between exposures at group level • Social isolation increased corticosterone and decreased haptoglobin in all goslings. • Responses to stressors differed between exposed and none-exposed birds • Genetic background of goslings was very much driving variability of different physiological endpoints, like brain receptor levels. • Dopamine receptor levels in the brains were significantly related to hepatic mercury levels • Behavioural differences were also noted, control animals were more calm than exposed animals. This was a first pilot study, which was not fully designed to link all endpoints mechanistically to exposure. However, exposure concentrations were extremely low, and the fact that difference were noted in e.g. brain receptors, stress responses and some behavioural endpoints makes the study still extremely relevant. To confirm the low effect concentrations, and to obtain better mechanistic insights in the effect cascades leading to adverse effects on e.g. behaviour it is essential to perform a follow-up experiment adapted from the pilot-study. This project is designed to perform such study.

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