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Understanding the origins of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) exposure in wild migratory birds and their health consequences

Project description

A deeper understanding of persistent organic pollutants and their effects on wildlife

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are poisonous chemical substances that affect human health and ecosystems around the world. They can stay in the environment for a long time, accumulating and passing from one species to another through the food chain. With a focus on a European migratory bird species, the Alpine swift (Tachymarptis melba), the EU-funded POPHEALTH project aims to elucidate how wintering and breeding areas influence the exposure to POPs in the wild. Findings will help validate which tissues best describe exposure to POPs in birds, in addition to shedding light on how exposure to POPs affects health and fitness.


Human activities are imposing major environmental alterations in natural populations and ecosystems. One of these alterations is pollution, which is the introduction in natural environments of contaminants that can alter the health, reproduction and survival of free living organisms. Consequently, there is increasing concerns about the sources of exposure to persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and about their consequences on human health and on natural populations and ecosystems. POPs are known to persist in the environment and to bioaccumulate through the lifetime of organisms as well as to increase in concentration with each successive step in the food chain (biomagnification), therefore top predators as birds are used as bioindicators. Moreover, migratory animals as birds don’t have borders, and hence, one growing issue is that European breeding species may also become exposed to POPs when visiting non-European ecosystems, such as during migration to Africa where many POPs banned in the EU are still used there as pesticides. POPs can be measured in different tissues (e.g. feathers, preen oil, and blood), although it is less clear to which extent these measure. For instance, blood samples are expected to reflect rather recent exposure to POPs. Currently, no study has addressed how POPs accumulate in different tissues using repeated measures from the same individuals, and as such explore what types of samples are best describing POPs bioaccumulation. Therefore, by applying in a European migratory bird species (the Alpine swift, Tachymarptis melba) new tracking technologies and state-of-the-art physiological and biomolecular tools, the overarching aim of POPHEALTH is to improve our understanding of how wintering and breeding areas influence the exposure to POPs in the wild, to provide novel insights on the health and fitness consequences of exposure to POPs in a long-term perspective, and to validate which tissue best describe exposure to POPs in birds.


Net EU contribution
€ 196 707,84
75794 Paris

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Ile-de-France Ile-de-France Paris
Activity type
Research Organisations
Total cost
€ 196 707,84