BSc. (Hons.) Animal Biology– University of Stirling (2010-2014)
Prof David Copplestone (University of Stirling)
Prof Nick Beresford (Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Lancaster)
Dr Tom Pottinger (Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Lancaster)
Dr Christelle Adam-Guillermin (Institut de Radioprotection et de Surete Nucleaire, Cadarache, France)
Prof Andrew Tyler (University of Stirling)
Start Date: 1st October 2015
3B155 Cottrell Building
Biological & Environmental Sciences
Faculty of Natural Sciences
University of Stirling
Stirling, Scotland, FK9 4LA
Investigating the direct and indirect effects of radiation in free-living birds through measurement of feather corticosterone
Thirty years after the accident at Chernobyl, controversy remains regarding the effects of radiation on wildlife in and around the exclusion zone. With the recent disaster at Fukushima, an important opportunity is available to study the links between exposure to radionuclide contamination, response of individuals in natural habitats, and the outcome as measured by performance or fitness.
Historically, physiological stress in vertebrates has been quantified through measurement of circulating glucocorticoids obtained via blood sampling, but this method may not be possible with certain species due to a protected status or remote breeding habitats. Recent work into non-invasive measures of stress hormones introduced a novel method of analysing corticosterone in bird feathers, as a longer term, integrated measure of circulating hormone levels. This research will initially test and validate extraction techniques from feather samples to assess if methodological variations affect corticosterone results.
Field work planned for 2017 will obtain feather samples of passerine species in and around the exclusion zone at Chernobyl, with potential replication at Fukushima, utilising nest boxes and mist nets. The overall aim is to better understand radiation exposure and the subsequent effects on wildlife, through use of a non-invasive measure of stress hormones, while validating and further developing these approaches to accessing biomarkers on stress and exposure for populations living in contaminated areas. This research is part of the TREE consortium (TRansfer, Exposure & Effects) under the RATE (Radioactivity And The Environment) programme, designed to more accurately predict the risk to humans and wildlife from exposure to ionising radiation through a combination of laboratory and field studies.
This PhD is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)