CORDIS - EU research results

BEHAVIOURAL ECOTOXIOCOLOGY MEETS CLIMATE CHANGE: Interactive effects of mercury pollution and climate change on behaviour, physiology and fitness in a keystone arctic seabird

Project description

Interactions between pollutants and climate change

Climate change and anthropogenic contaminants represent rising threats for Arctic ecosystems. As the Arctic warms, pollutants such as methylmercury, which accumulate in marine food chains, pose increasing ecological dangers. However, ecotoxicological research in the Arctic has not sufficiently considered the effects of contaminants on animal behaviour and health nor the interactions between pollutants and climate change. The EU-funded BehavToxArc project will address this problem by studying a keystone Arctic seabird named the little auk. Data related to the seabird’s behaviour and health will be collected from two colonies living under different environmental conditions and climate change effects. BehavToxArc will examine whether disruption of behaviour or stress physiology due to mercury could reduce adaptation to environmental change.


The arctic marine biota is vulnerable to effects of climate change and anthropogenic contaminants. The artic is warming rapidly and is a sink for pollutants, including methylmercury (MeHg), which bioaccumulates in marine food chains. Ecotoxicological studies in the arctic have not adequately considered effects of contaminants on animal behaviour and fitness, or interactions between contaminants and climate change. This study (BehavToxArc) will address these urgent research areas using a keystone arctic seabird, the little auk (Alle alle). I will collect data from two colonies that are experiencing different environmental conditions and climate change impacts, and explore whether disruption of behaviour or stress physiology by Hg might limit adjustments to environmental change. I will use ultralight GPSs and accelerometers to collect unique behavioural data, which will be linked to state-of-the-art Hg measurements, and complemented by a long-term dataset (from accelerometers since 2009). I will also perform cutting-edge experiments to manipulate stress physiology, and explore cross-generational effects of Hg exposure in the context of climate change, focusing on telomeres. I will work with Dr. Jérôme Fort within the AMARE (Responses of Marine Organisms to Environmental Variability) group at La Rochelle University’s Institute Littoral Environnement et Sociétés. BehavToxArc will synthesize my expertise in behavioural ecotoxicology and telomere biology with Dr. Fort’s expertise in arctic ecotoxicology and spatial ecology. The project will introduce me to state-of-the art methods to monitor movement behaviour and measure telomeres, and the highly topical fields of arctic ecotoxicology and global change biology. Results will be disseminated by top-tier publications, conferences and public engagement, and used to advance scientific knowledge and environmental policy. The project will pivotally advance my career and propel me towards a permanent research position.


Net EU contribution
€ 184 707,84
Avenue Albert-Einstein 23
17031 La Rochelle

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Nouvelle-Aquitaine Poitou-Charentes Charente-Maritime
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 184 707,84