Interactions between natural stressors and pollutant exposure in nestling birds of prey

Project facts

Project promoter
University of Murcia
Project Number:
Target groups
Researchers or scientists
Initial project cost:
Final project cost:
From EEA Grants:
€ 11,498
The project is carried out in:


The results of the present study are expected to allow addressing important and emerging knowledge gaps in stress ecology, ecotoxicology and global change biology. The novel approach of using feathers as a combined biomarker for exposure and effect can be very useful in correlative, time trend, geographical and experimental studies. The planned cooperation will benefit both partners as an entirely new collaboration will be set up, combining the specific expertise of the institutions and researchers involved. The project promoter, University of Murcia, has already worked in the field of biomonitoring of contaminants using birds. The project promoter will learn new methods to assess the effects of contaminants on health. OHCs (Organohalogen Compounds) will be prepared for analysis at Norwegian University of Science and Technology, donor partner, which has renowned expertise in the analysis of OHCs. The first results will be presented at the host institution during the stay, on Scientific Seminars in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry and in international workshops and conferences. Scientific community is expected to benefit from the project.

Summary of project results

The project was implemented with the following aims: 1) Method optimization to measure stress hormones in feathers and plasma. Corticosterone is the main glucocorticoid released in stress response in birds. In blood, a fraction of corticosterone is bound to globulins, while the rest is free and thus, considere readily available to enter in the cell and activate the receptors. During stressful conditions, binding capacity of these globulins is reduced and bound corticosterone is released. Different experiments were performed and results may be consulted contacting partners. 2) Study the effect of organohalogen compounds (OHCs), metals, feeding ecology and climate on stress endpoints. Within the group of organohalogen compounds, perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances are a large group of compounds widely used in industry for the past six decades because of their physical and chemical properties of water and oil repellence, thermal stability and surfactants properties. Due to their persistence to degradation and low metabolism in animals, most of them are nowadays ubiquitous, being found even in the Artic, which indicates long range transport. Several experiments were performed. 3) Study of the effects of OHCs, metals, feeding ecology and climate on health parameters. Blood clinical-chemical parameters are considered useful biomarkers to evaluate the health status of the animals, since they reflect health and liver homeostasis, kidney function, bone metabolism, energy metabolism and electrolytic homeostasys and hydration. These parameters may be altered due to contaminant exposure, thus being potentially useful biomarker endpoints. Several experiments were performed. Partners produced several seminars, and prepared papers to be submitted to international scientific peer reviewed journals.

Summary of bilateral results

This partnership represents the establishment of a stronger cooperation between research groups with common research topics in different countries. Although a previous contact between the involved researchers existed (within an ESF networking programme: EURAPMON,, this is the first research cooperation between both researchers and institutions. This new cooperation hence strengthens the relationships and optimizes efforts in this field. Moreover, the planned cooperation with the University of Murcia (“Toxicology and forensic veterinary group” and “Mediterranean ecosystem group”) and the NTNU (“Bird ecotoxicology group”) is expected to contribute to the increase and dissemination of knowledge in this field, since dissemination activities (e.g. at the international SETAC conference in Barcelona, May 2015) and scientific publications are planned. The results obtained during this project are the first results within a starting project (NewRaptor project) coordinated by Dr. Veerle Jaspers, the host institution researcher. This 4-year project, is co-funded by the Norwegian Research Council and NTNU and is a collaboration of national (NTNU, NINA, NILU) and international institutions (University of Antwerp, Belgium; Aarhus University, Denmark). As a consequence of this stay, a new collaboration with the “Toxicology and forensic veterinary” research group of the University of Murcia is planned, to obtain blood and feathers from goshawks born in Murcia. In this sense, the results obtained in future years can be compared with the results obtained during the stay in order to establish space-temporal trends, probably associated to climate.