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Investigation of direct and indirect effects of exposure to
radioactive contaminants in free-living birds by analysis of

feather corticosterone concentrations
Project reference IAP/13/02. Please quote this reference when applying.
NERC-CEH Lancaster (Contaminants Group)
In partnership with University of Stirling (Biological and Environmental
Sciences, School of Natural Sciences)
Supervisory Team
Dr. Nick Beresford (NERC-CEH)
Dr. Tom Pottinger (NERC-CEH)
Dr. David Copplestone (Univ. Of Stirling)
Dr. Christelle Adam-Guillermin (IRSN, Cadarache, France)

Key Words
Radioactivity, stress, birds, Fukushima, Chernobyl biomarker approaches to accessing data for stress and Overview
exposure among affected animal populations. Establishing systems to ensure that wildlife is The neuroendocrine stress axis represents one protected from releases of radioactivity into the possible mediator of radiation induced effects, both environment has been a focus of many radioecological direct and indirect. The corticosteroid stress studies and international/regulatory bodies over the response is a fundamentally beneficial adaptive mechanism that is activated in response to considerable controversy regarding the effects of destabilising or threatening challenges. Under certain radiation in the environment around the Chernobyl circumstances activation of the stress axis may result 2 (accident in 1986) and more recently areas of Japan contaminated by the 2011 Fukushima accident . Consequently, there is considerable interest in assessing the status and activity of the stress axis in animals in an ecological context, as both an index, and predictor, of fitness and performance. The student will investigate the involvement of the neuroendocrine stress axis in translating exposure to effect using bird populations in contaminated areas of Japan and the Ukraine. The project will utilise a non-invasive approach to the quantification of the primary stress-induced corticosteroid, corticosterone, as a marker of stress axis activity together with testosterone and 17β- There is a need to better understand the effects of estradiol as markers of endocrine reproductive radiation on wildlife and also to develop non-lethal activity. Steroid hormones are sequestered in feathers in proportion to the levels circulating within the blood The student will benefit from wider interaction within the research groups at CEH Lancaster and Stirling. At the University of Stirling personal development modules are offered by the Stirling Graduate School. Appropriate CEH training courses will be available to the student. Courses we envisage the student attending are: Effective Research, Scientific Writing, Statistics for Environmental Evaluation (and use of R), A while tailed eagle in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone Presentation Skills, and Environmental Protection. The (Photo: Sergey Gashchak, Chornobyl Center, Ukraine). student will be expected to attend the annual UK Explorative studies at CEH Lancaster have established COGER meetings which have an emphasis on a technique to determine hormone levels in small encouraging students to present their work. sample sizes of feathers (e.g. from tit and sparrow The student will also have the opportunity to interact species). Initial analyses of samples from areas of Japan with wider student networks through the EURATOM contaminated by the Fukushima accident suggest that funded STAR/COMET and NERC TREE projects both the approach is worthy of further consideration. of which have dedicated training programmes for students studying radioecological sciences. Methodology

The project will exploit established links with the French Institute of Radiation Protection who have an References & Further Reading
on-going programme of work in Japan (FREEBIRD)4, References
and with the recently funded EURATOM (COMET)5 and NERC RATE TREE projects both of which have 1Copplestone, D., Beresford, N.A., Howard, B.J. 2010. field studies within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. EDITORIAL: Protection of the Environment from Ionising Radiation: developing criteria and evaluating Measurement of feather steroid concentrations will be approaches for use in regulation. J. Radiol. Prot., 30, employed in conjunction with individual data on radionuclide exposure (determined by live-monitoring and/or modelling), growth, condition and reproductive 2Beresford, N.A., Copplestone, D. 2011. Effects of status to seek evidence for potentially causal links Ionizing Radiation on Wildlife: What Knowledge Have between exposure (dose), response (corticosteroid We Gained Between the Chernobyl and Fukushima and/or gonadal steroid concentrations) and outcomes Accidents? Integer. Environ. Assess. Manag., 7, 371–37. 3Koren, L., Nakagawa, S., Burke, T., Soma, K. K., Wynne-Edwards, K. E., Geffen, E. 2012. Non-breeding Timeline
corticosterone and cortisol are associated with Year 1: Conduct a literature review. Acquire and subsequent survival in wild house sparrows. Proc. R. refine analytical methodology using existing samples obtained from the FREEBIRD project. Design a targeted sampling strategy in collaboration with Years 2 and 3: Implement the sampling programme and conduct steroid analyses. Initiate statistical Further reading
analyses of the data. Make site visits. Year 4: Thesis preparation and paper writing (these Smith, J., Beresford, N.A. 2005. Chernobyl activities will be ongoing throughout the PhD.). Catastrophe and Consequences. Chichester: Praxis Training & Skills

Further Information
The key technique required for this study, measurement of steroid hormones within feathers, is already established at CEH Lancaster and the student will be given full training in its operation. The student will also become familiar with avian ecology, sampling strategy design, data analysis, scientific writing, and will be encouraged to develop their presentational skills.


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