Emerging Pollutants and Their Effects on Birds
Birds are continuously exposed to a multitude of chemical substances that are used to make consumer goods – from plastics to furniture. For example, large amounts of new types of flame retardants are being used as alternatives to polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), another type of flame retardant that was recently banned in Canada.
Dr. Jonathan Verreault, Canada Research Chair in Comparative Avian Toxicology, aims to identify the sources of pollutants and determine the effects that new flame retardants have on bird species that occupy top trophic positions in the food chain. He wonders: Are there differences in species of birds from temperate and northern regions in terms of their exposure and sensibility to toxic chemicals?
Verreault is studying gulls, species that are ubiquitously present in heavily-polluted industrialized and agricultural regions as in less polluted Arctic regions that are undergoing rapid environmental changes, including climate change, invasive species and new pathogens. Studying the biological effects of flame retardants on gulls will provide a tremendous amount of information on the sources of exposure and the toxicity of these new substances on vulnerable and sensitive ecosystems.
As part of his research, Verreault is studying the feeding ecology and space-use strategies of gulls. He is also trying to better understand the effects of pollutants on the birds’ endocrine systems and metabolic rates (bioenergetics).
Verreault’s research will supply an immense amount of data and tools to evaluate the effects of new chemical substances in Canada, and will contribute to protect sensitive ecosystems and species at potential risk.