Exposure to residual concentrations of elements from a remediated coal fly ash spill does not adversely influence stress and immune responses of nestling tree swallows

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Date
2014
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Oxford University Press
Abstract

Anthropogenic activities often produce pollutants that can affect the physiology, growth and reproductive success of wildlife. Many metals and trace elements play important roles in physiological processes, and exposure to even moderately elevated concentrations of essential and non-essential elements could have subtle effects on physiology, particularly during development. We examined the effects of exposure to a number of elements from a coal fly ash spill that occurred in December 2008 and has since been remediated on the stress and immune responses of nestling tree swallows. We found that nestlings at the site of the spill had significantly greater blood concentrations of Cu, Hg, Se and Zn in 2011, but greater concentrations only of Se in 2012, in comparison to reference colonies. The concentrations of elements were below levels of significant toxicological concern in both years. In 2011, we found no relationship between exposure to elements associated with the spill and basal or stress-induced corticosterone concentrations in nestlings. In 2012, we found that Se exposure was not associated with cellmediated immunity based on the response to phytohaemagglutinin injection. However, the bactericidal capacity of nestling plasma had a positive but weak association with blood Se concentrations, and this association was stronger at the spill site. Our results indicate that exposure to these low concentrations of elements had few effects on nestling endocrine and immune physiology. The long-term health consequences of low-level exposure to elements and of exposure to greater element concentrations in avian species require additional study.

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Keywords
bactericidal capacity, cell-mediated immunity, element, stress response, tree swallow
Citation
Beck ML, Hopkins WA, Hallagan JJ, Jackson BP, Hawley DM (2014) Exposure to residual concentrations of elements from a remediated coal fly ash spill does not adversely influence stress and immune responses of nestling tree swallows. Conserv Physiol 2: doi:10.1093/conphys/cou018.