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No delayed behavioral and phenotypic responses to experimental early-life lead exposure in great tits (Parus major)

Abstract

Early-life exposure to pollutants, such as lead, may have long-lasting consequences on health, behavior, and cognition. However, experiments on delayed effects of specific pollutants are very rare in wild animals. We experimentally exposed wild nestling great tits (Parus major) to dietary lead (high, low, or control group) in levels relevant to exposure levels of wild populations in Europe and studied delayed effects on phenotypic and behavioral traits in captivity. We also included a group of birds from a vicinity of a copper smelter, exposed to a mixture of toxic metals and altered food supply during development. This experimental setup allowed us to compare the strength of direct (exposure to lead per se) and indirect (pollution-related changes in diet) effects of pollutants. Our experimental lead treatment significantly increased lead levels in bone and feces compared with controls. However, we found no carry-over effect of early-life dietary lead on morphology, plumage coloration, or heat shock proteins. Treatment did not affect activity, exploration, neophobia, or success in learning and spatial memory task. We conclude that with the exposure levels and relatively short exposure period used, delayed effects on the measured traits were not found. However, it is important to further study other types of behavioral traits and ultimately fitness effects.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Salla Koskinen, Tarja Pajari, Marjo Aikko, Orsolyia Palfi, Åsa Berglund, and Jorma Nurmi for their efforts in helping us with field work. Tuija Koivisto made the color measurements. Meri Lindquist is acknowledged for molecular sexing of birds. Paul Ek and Sten Lindholm (Åbo Akademi) are acknowledged for the metal analyzes. Our study was financed by KONE foundation (SR) and Academy of Finland (TE, project 265859).

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Correspondence to Suvi Ruuskanen.

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Responsible editor: Philippe Garrigues

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Ruuskanen, S., Eeva, T., Kotitalo, P. et al. No delayed behavioral and phenotypic responses to experimental early-life lead exposure in great tits (Parus major). Environ Sci Pollut Res 22, 2610–2621 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-014-3498-z

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Keywords

  • Heavy metal
  • Carry-over effect
  • Developmental stress
  • Behavioral changes
  • Bird ecotoxicology