Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS


Climate change is leading to a rapid decline of sea-ice extent in the Arctic. This modification is bound to profoundly affect the functioning of Arctic marine ecosystems and understanding its impacts on the marine biodiversity is now a major issue raised by several international organizations. Among other threats, the expansion of ice-free areas is opening new shipping routes and increasing opportunities for extractive industries, thereby contributing to enhanced pollution at sea. In this context, the ARCTOX project aims at leading a comprehensive study of the indirect impacts of shrinking sea-ice cover on the arctic seabird community through the increase in the environment of two main oil-related pollutant levels (the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and the mercury (Hg)). More specifically, the project proposes to use new and trans-disciplinary approaches combining pollutant analyses, biotelemetry, bioenergetics modelling and field monitoring to (1) evaluate how levels of oil-associated pollutants changed in the Arctic seabird community over the last three decades. Studying the seabird community is relevant as they represent an essential component of Arctic marine ecosystems but are also extremely sensitive to pollution risks. (2) Investigate the impacts of these pollutants on Arctic seabirds from two differently exposed regions. (3) Model how increasing pollutant levels in the Arctic marine environment might modify the distribution of the seabird community by affecting their energetic niche. (4) Build-up an international and pan-Arctic sampling network to use the Arctic seabird community as bio-indicators of the state of pollution in the Arctic marine environment and to thereby define sensitive hotpots for Arctic marine organisms.
Within the first period of the project (01/03/2016-29/02/2016), most of the planed objectives for the period were achieved. More specifically, we have first analysed long-term trends of Hg in different seabird species breeding in two contrasting regions of Greenland. Results show that Hg concentrations have declined in every species and at both sites between the 80’s and 2008, most likely linked with the decrease of Hg emissions in Canada and Northern Europe during this period. However, our results also demonstrate that Hg levels measured in birds from East Greenland have increased at a rate of 3.4% per year since 2007. Importantly, we demonstrated that this increase reflects a general increase of the marine food web contamination. Second, we developed an approach of spatial ecotoxicology combining contaminant analyses with bio-logging and the use of electronic devices to investigate when and where birds were primarily exposed to contaminants. We demonstrated that birds are 3 to 4 times more exposed to Hg during their non-breeding period spent outside of the Arctic than during their arctic breeding season. This novel and very promising approach also demonstrated how seabirds can be used as bio-indicators to investigate spatial variations on contaminants in the marine environment. Third, we initiated the study of the impacts of contaminants on seabird breeding success and survival. More specifically, we demonstrated that Hg is a major aggravating stress factor for wintering seabird. Indeed, Hg could have played a role in the recent massive seabird winter mortality in February-March 2014, when >43000 seabird originating from the sub-Arctic and northern Europe were found dead along the French Atlantic coasts. Additionally, by focusing on a population of little auks breeding in East Greenland, we showed that high levels of Hg accumulated by females are associated with smaller eggs, which suggest potential impacts of Hg on Arctic seabird reproduction. Finally, during this first period, we set-up a large pan-Arctic sampling network involving researchers from Canada, U.S.A, Japan, Russia, Greenland, Denmark, Iceland, Faroe Island, Norway, Poland, France and the U.K. This effective network has already allowed to collect and gather samples from 29 sites around the Arctic and for 8 different seabird species which reflect different compartments of the Arctic marine ecosystems. This international network will be essential to study and monitor the Arctic contamination at a pan-Arctic scale.


Paco Bustamante, (Senior Scientist - Director of LIENSs)
Tel.: +33546507625
Fax: +33546458264


Life Sciences
Record Number: 187511 / Last updated on: 2016-08-22