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The influence of natural variation and organohalogenated contaminants on physiological parameters in white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) nestlings from Norway

New publication by Mari Engvig Løseth, Jørgen Flo, Christian Sonne, Anne Kirstine Havnsøe Krogh, Torgeir Nygård, Jan Ove Bustnes, Bjørn Munro Jenssen, Veerle L.B.Jaspers


Environmental exposure to organohalogenated contaminants (OHCs), even at low concentrations, may cause detrimental effects on the development and health of wild birds. The present study investigated if environmental exposure to OHCs may influence the variation of multiple physiological parameters in Norwegian white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) nestlings. Plasma and feather samples were obtained from 70 nestlings at two archipelagos in Norway in 2015 and 2016. The selected physiological parameters were plasma concentrations of thyroid hormones (thyroxine, T4 and triiodothyronine, T3), plasma proteins (prealbumin, albumin, α1-, α2-, β- and γ-globulins) and selected blood clinical chemical parameters (BCCPs) associated with liver and kidney functioning. Feather concentrations of corticosterone (CORTf) were also included to investigate the overall stress level of the nestlings. Concentrations of all studied physiological parameters were within the ranges of those found in other species of free-living birds of prey nestlings and indicated that the white-tailed eagle nestlings were in good health. Our statistical models indicated that perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) and legacy OHCs, such as polychlorinated biphenyls, organochlorinated pesticides and polybrominated diphenyl ethers, influenced only a minor fraction of the variation of plasma thyroid hormones, prealbumin and CORTf (5–15%), and partly explained the selected BCCPs (<26%). Most of the variation in each studied physiological parameter was explained by variation between nests, which is most likely due to natural physiological variation of nestlings in these nests. This indicates the importance of accounting for between nest variation in future studies. In the present nestlings, OHC concentrations were relatively low and seem to have played a secondary role compared to natural variation concerning the variation of physiological parameters. However, our study also indicates a potential for OHC-induced effects on thyroid hormones, CORTf, prealbumin and BCCPs, which could be of concern in birds exposed to higher OHC concentrations than the present white-tailed eagle nestlings.