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Oxidative stress risk assessment through heavy metal and arsenic exposure in terrestrial and aquatic bird species of Pakistan

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In this study, we investigated metal- and metalloid-induced oxidative stress response in two aquatic (cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis) (n = 10), pond heron (Ardeola grayii) (n = 10)), as well as two terrestrial (spotted owlet (Athene brama) (n = 6) and bank myna (Acridotheres ginginianus) (n = 16)) bird species collected from the outskirts of Lahore city, Pakistan. For this purpose, glutathione (tGSH) and lipid peroxidation (thiobarbituric acid-reactive substances (TBARS)) levels and activities of antioxidant enzymes (superoxide dismutase (SOD); catalase (CAT)) were analyzed as biomarkers of oxidative stress against metal (Pb, Cd, Cu, Zn) and metalloid (As) concentrations in kidney liver and blood of birds. Our results depicted significant correlation for Pb, Cd, and As with oxidative stress biomarkers in birds. The levels of heavy metals and As and their corresponding effects on oxidative stress biomarkers were comparably higher in aquatic species (p ≤ 0.01) except for Pb and Zn. In comparison of species, SOD and tGSH activities were higher in bank myna and cattle egret, while CAT activity and TBARS concentrations were higher in pond heron and cattle egret, respectively. We deduced that tissues with higher accumulation of metal(loid)s such as liver and kidney were under a great risk to oxidative damage. The overall order of metal accumulation and subsequent oxidative damage among families followed the pattern as Strigidae ≥Ardieda ≥ Sturnidae with their respective trophic levels. Globally, metal- and As-induced oxidative stress is least emphasized in multiple tissues of birds that is needed to be addressed with focus on case-control studies using dose-response approach.


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The authors are highly thankful to WWF Pakistan for providing support during field sampling of this project.


This research was conducted under university research funds from the Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan. Research was done when the first author was an MPhil Scholar under the supervision of Dr. Riffat Naseem Malik in the Environmental Laboratory, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

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Correspondence to Naeem Akhtar Abbasi or Riffat Naseem Malik.

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• First ever report on metal(loid)-induced oxidative stress response in birds of Pakistan.

• Evaluated differences between habitat, species, tissues, and taxonomic and trophic groups.

• Elevated levels of metals and As were found in different tissues of studied birds.

• Found significant correlations between metal(loid)s and oxidative stress biomarkers.

• Highlighted the need of dose-response-based studies to best predict the results in future studies.

Responsible editor: Philippe Garrigues

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Kanwal, S., Abbasi, N.A., Chaudhry, M.J.I. et al. Oxidative stress risk assessment through heavy metal and arsenic exposure in terrestrial and aquatic bird species of Pakistan. Environ Sci Pollut Res (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-020-07649-z

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  • Oxidative damage
  • Antioxidants
  • Biomarkers
  • Tissues
  • Interspecific variables