Nav: Home

Can pollution alter wildlife behavior?

July 27, 2018

A team of scientists from the University of Portsmouth have developed new scientific tests to better understand the effects of pollution on wildlife behaviour.

The field of behavioural toxicology is gaining traction within the environmental sciences with an increasing number of studies demonstrating that chemical exposure can alter animal behaviour.

An organism's behaviour is fundamentally important to their survival through feeding, finding mates and escaping predators. Any chemical which could interfere with these responses has the potential to impact the food chain.

Using small shrimp-like crustaceans called amphipods, which are commonly used to monitor environmental toxicology, a team led by Professor Alex Ford and PhD student Shanelle Kohler, have been designing experiments to best answer these questions. In previously determining that these animals prefer to swim away from the light (negative phototaxis) and preferably be touching the sides of the tanks (positive thigmotaxis) they first set about asking whether these preferences could be altered by the size and shape of their testing tanks.

The results from their study, published this month in the journal PeerJ, found that tank size and shape can alter their exploratory behaviours, the time they spent next to a wall (wall-hugging) and the speed at which they swam. In a second set of experiments, the results published in this month's Aquatic Toxicology journal, they wanted to determine whether two closely related species (one marine and one freshwater amphipod) reacted in the same way to a stimulus of light. Interestingly, they found that the two species reacted very differently to a short (two-minute) burst of light.

Professor Ford from the University's Institute of Marine Sciences, said: "These results are really important for us and the scientific community in determining the correct experimental design. If scientists don't give the organisms the space to behave they might not detect the impacts of chemical pollution."

He added: "Environmental toxicologists around the world often use similar processes but not always for the same species for their pollution testing. This could lead to two groups of scientists getting very different results if their study organism are not the same species. For example, a chemical might have the capacity to alter a certain behaviour but if two closely related species have subtly different reactions to a stimulus (light for example) then this might mask the impacts of the pollutant."

Shanelle Kohler said: "These results highlight the importance of standardising behavioural assays, as variations in experimental design could alter animal behaviour. It is essential to gather baseline behaviours on your test organism to ensure that they are sensitive to your assay and prevent erroneous interpretations of results, for example is your animal unaffected by your contaminant or are they simply not sensitive to your assay?"

Co-author on the paper Dr Matt Parker, Senior Lecturer in Behavioural Pharmacology and Molecular Neuroscience at the University of Portsmouth, said: "One of the critical issues in scientific ethics is the necessity to choose the least sentient organism possible for use in research. This set of studies has highlighted behavioural diversity in two closely related invertebrate species, suggesting that these organisms may be useful for studying the basis of more complex behaviours, and the potential to study the effects of different drugs on behavioural responses."
-end-


University of Portsmouth

Related Pollution Articles:

Combatting air pollution with nature
Air pollution is composed of particles and gases that can have negative impacts on both the environment and human health.
Nature might be better than tech at reducing air pollution
Adding plants and trees to the landscapes near factories and other pollution sources could reduce air pollution by an average of 27 percent, new research suggests.
Aspirin may prevent air pollution harms
A new study is the first to report evidence that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin may lessen the adverse effects of air pollution exposure on lung function.
Is pollution linked to psychiatric disorders?
Researchers are increasingly studying the effects of environmental insults on psychiatric and neurological conditions, motivated by emerging evidence from environmental events like the record-breaking smog that choked New Delhi two years ago.
New polymer tackles PFAS pollution
toxic polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) pollution -- commonly used in non-stick and protective coatings, lubricants and aviation fire-fighting foams -- can now be removed from the environment thanks to a new low-cost, safe and environmentally friendly polymer.
A new view of wintertime air pollution
The team's unexpected finding suggests that in the US West and elsewhere, certain efforts to reduce harmful wintertime air pollution could backfire.
Tracking the sources of plastic pollution
Plastic pollution in the world's oceans is now widely recognized as a major global challenge -- but we still know very little about how these plastics are actually reaching the sea.
Delhi's complicated air pollution problem
According to the World Health Organization, Delhi is the world's most polluted large city.
A warming world increases air pollution
The UC Riverside-led study shows that the contrast in warming between the continents and sea, called the land-sea warming contrast, drives an increased concentration of aerosols in the atmosphere that cause air pollution.
China's war on particulate air pollution is causing more severe ozone pollution
In China, the rapid reduction of the pollutant PM 2.5 dramatically altered the chemistry of the atmosphere, leading to an increase in harmful ground-level ozone pollution, especially in large cities.
More Pollution News and Pollution Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

In & Out Of Love
We think of love as a mysterious, unknowable force. Something that happens to us. But what if we could control it? This hour, TED speakers on whether we can decide to fall in — and out of — love. Guests include writer Mandy Len Catron, biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, musician Dessa, One Love CEO Katie Hood, and psychologist Guy Winch.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#543 Give a Nerd a Gift
Yup, you guessed it... it's Science for the People's annual holiday episode that helps you figure out what sciency books and gifts to get that special nerd on your list. Or maybe you're looking to build up your reading list for the holiday break and a geeky Christmas sweater to wear to an upcoming party. Returning are pop-science power-readers John Dupuis and Joanne Manaster to dish on the best science books they read this past year. And Rachelle Saunders and Bethany Brookshire squee in delight over some truly delightful science-themed non-book objects for those whose bookshelves are already full. Since...
Now Playing: Radiolab

An Announcement from Radiolab