During development in fluctuating environments, phenotypes can be adjusted to the conditions that individuals will probably encounter later in life. As developing embryos have a limited capacity to fully capture environmental information, theory predicts that they should integrate relevant information from all reliable sources, including the social environment. In many oviparous species, embryos are able to perceive cues of predator presence in some circumstances, but whether this information is socially transmitted among clutch mates—promoting phenotypic adjustments in the whole clutch—is unknown. Here, using an experimental design for which we modified the exposure to some, but not all, embryos of the same clutch to cues of predator presence (that is, alarm calls), we show that exposed embryos of the yellow-legged gull (Larus michahellis) and their unexposed clutch mates showed similar developmental changes that were absent in embryos from control clutches. Compared with the control broods, both embryos that were exposed to alarm calls and their unexposed clutch mates showed altered prenatal and postnatal behaviours, higher levels of DNA methylation and stress hormones, and reduced growth and numbers of mitochondria (which may be indicative of the capacity for energy production of cells). These results strongly suggest that gull embryos are able to acquire relevant environmental information from their siblings. Together, our results highlight the importance of socially acquired information during the prenatal stage as a non-genetic mechanism promoting developmental plasticity.
Louzao, M., Valeiras, J., García-Barcelona, S., González-Quirós, R., Nogueira, E., Iglesias, M., Bode, A., Vázquez, J.A., Murcia, J.L., Saavedra, C. and Pierce, G.J., 2019. Marine megafauna niche coexistence and hotspot areas in a temperate ecosystem. Continental Shelf Research, 186, pp.77-87.
In the last few decades, there has been a remarkable development of niche models to help understand the ecological response of species to current rapid environmental changes. In the present study, we applied niche modelling to the megafauna community of shelf waters of the northwestern (NW) and northern Iberian Peninsula in order to analyse the coexistence of different species taking into consideration their niche preferences. The Spanish Institute of Oceanography conducts the PELACUS multidisciplinary survey annually to assess pelagic fish stocks and collect information on the status of other ecosystem components, such as oceanographic conditions, phytoplankton, zooplankton and marine megafauna. Using data collected from these surveys, we developed niche models for 14 marine megafauna taxa (3 cetaceans, 10 seabirds and 1 fish) incorporating multi-trophic ecological descriptors collected simultaneously during the surveys alongside the more commonly used oceanographic variables (e.g. chlorophyll a and sea surface temperature). Megafauna niche models were developed by pooling observations from 2007 to 2013 and were found to be driven by mean fish biomass and its variability, in addition to sea surface temperature. Hierarchical clustering identified four distinct megafauna assemblages, the first comprising wide-ranging species and the other three associated with shelf-slope waters in Galicia, coastal/shelf waters in Galicia, and the eastern Cantabrian Sea, respectively. Community-level hotspot areas were found in shelf and shelf-break sectors of Galicia, along with small diversity spots scattered throughout the Cantabrian coastal area. Our results showed that synoptically collected survey-based ecological descriptors, especially acoustic-based preyscapes, were among the most important variables explaining megafauna niche preference. These findings highlight the advantage of using integrated ecosystem surveys to collect simultaneous information on a suite of ecosystem components for spatial assessments.
The value of birds as bioindicators for monitoring the environmental inorganic elements has been globally recognized. In this context, due to its well-known ecology and population stability, the Northern gannet (Morus bassanus) could be particularly useful. Dead Northern gannets (n = 30) were collected and samples from the liver, kidney, and feathers were taken, dried, mineralized, and finally analyzed via ICP-MS. Metals and metalloids, namely As, Cd, Hg, Pb, and Zn, associated with environmental pollution and toxicity on living organisms, were evaluated. The mean highest concentrations of As, Hg, and Zn were found in the liver (0.916, 7.026, and 89.81 mg/kg dry weight, respectively). For Cd, the kidney showed the highest mean concentration (17.51 mg/kg dry weight), whereas for Pb, this value corresponded to the feathers (0.399 mg/kg dry weight). Significant differences were found between the age classes in terms of contaminant concentrations, with the adults exhibiting higher metal levels. This difference was significantly relevant for Pb and Hg, where the effect of age was observed for all the considered tissues. When considering the effect of gender, no significant differences were observed, in agreement with similar studies performed in other geographical regions. Finally, positive correlations between the concentrations of Hg and Pb in the feathers and in the liver (r = 0.688, p < 0.001 and r = 0.566, p < 0.001, respectively) were observed, as well as between the feather and kidney concentrations (r = 0.685, p < 0.001) indicating the possibility to use feathers, a non-invasive biomonitoring tissue, for better understanding Hg and Pb exposure in seabirds.
Due to the ability of birds to travel long distances in the air, the potential feeding area of each individual is much larger than that of typical terrestrial animals. This makes birds a convenient indicator of environmental lead (Pb) pollution over large areas, in particular areas of inland and coastal waters. The aim of this study was to assess the concentrations of Pb in various organs of water birds from a variety of locations. The focus was on ducks, geese and swans (Anatidae); herons and egrets (Ardeidae); terns (Sternidae); and gulls (Laridae). This article describes the level of lead in the most commonly studied tissue types: feathers, bones and the liver. The study also presents data concerning the concentration of lead in the eggs of water birds. The highest levels of lead pollution can be observed in China and Korea, related to their high level of industrialization. In Iran too, environmental lead pollution is high, likely due to the developed petrochemical industry. Lead pollution in Japan, as well as in Western European countries (Spain, France, Italy), seems to be much lower than in China, India or Iran. Nevertheless, the level of pollution in Europe is higher than satisfactory, despite the introduction of a number of bans related to, for example, the use of leaded petrol or lead-containing paints. Finally, the USA and Canada appear to be the areas with the lowest lead pollution, possibly due to their low population densities.
Microplastic particles are abundant marine pollutants that are ingested by many seabirds. Some seabirds regurgitate non-digestible materials in the form of pellets and their analysis may be useful to study the abundance of plastic debris at the local scale. Here, we aimed to provide baseline data for the presence of microplastics in pellets regurgitated by European shags (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) (n = 41) in the Iberia peninsula (NW Spain). We found microplastic fibers in 63% of pellets, suggesting that this type of plastic pollution is prevalent in the study area. According to Fourier Transform Infrared spectrometry, nylon fibers were the most abundant, followed by polyester. We also found that the presence of microplastics was higher in pellets containing remains of benthic fishes. Our results suggest that shag pellets may be useful to monitor microplastic pollution in coastal waters.
Concentrations of 7 different polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) congeners, and eleven organochlorine pesticides (OCPs) and metabolites, including DDTs (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane), HCHs (hexachlorocyclohexane isomers), Endosulfan, Endosulfan sulfate, Endrin, Dieldrin and HCB (hexachlorobenzene), were determined in adipose tissue of 57 yellow-legged gulls collected from NW and N Spain. Furthermore, the possible differences due to two endogenous factors, age and gender, were determined. All the analyzed PCBs were detected in over 66% of the samples, with levels of 291.9 (PCB 180), 34.5 (PCB 118), 0.7 (PCB 28), 432.6 (PCB 153), 225.5 (PCB 138), 1.3 (PCB 101) and 0.4 (PCB 52) µg/kg of adipose tissue. With respect to the OCPs and metabolites, only 4,4′-DDE and HCB were detected in more than 50% of the samples, with means of 360.6 and 2.5 µg/kg of adipose tissue, respectively. From all the considered contaminants, only 4,4′-DDE levels presented significant differences depending on the gender, with females showing higher values than males (p < 0.01). Significant differences (p < 0.001) were also found related to age for the levels of PCBs 180, 138, 101, 28 and 153, as well as 4,4′-DDE, with adult levels being higher than those in young birds. The results of the present study constitute a baseline to better assess the environmental impacts of PCB and OCP contamination at other coastal sites for future biomonitoring studies, with particular emphasis on gender- and age-related differences.