Health of Arctic and Antarctic Bird Populations

Project Description
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In short, the aim of the project is:
1. Study geographic variation in infections, parasites, immune system functioning and pollution levels in birds.
2. An effect study on individual marked birds
3. Modelling future scenario's of geographic variation and relating the findings to climate change, nature management and human health.

Healthy individuals are able to optimize resource use, survival and reproduction. Health of an individual will be under constant attack. Animals have developed immunological, physiological and behavioural strategies to battle these attacks from pathogens, parasites and/or pollution on their health. This battle for health is the main theme of the study.

Individually marked birds are the subject of this study. They can be studied over their life time in the wild. Health of marked individuals can be correlated with present and future fitness. Experimental manipulations will quantify the consequences of specific attacks on health and will determine cause and effect in the correlations.

Ecological immunology is a fast developing field, with beautiful examples of individual and species differences in immune response. Population size and distribution is structured by pathogens, parasites and pollution, which effect on fitness often is a complex interaction in an evolution of the struggle for survival. Spatial and temporal variation between populations and individuals is the main focus of the study.

The polar regions are of special interest for this study. These areas are considered to have relatively low levels of pathogens, parasites and pollution. Migratory birds linking temperate regions with the Arctic are potential vectors of diseases as shown by the recent spread of the West Nile Virus and Avian Influenza: diseases which are threatening domestic animals and humans. With a changing arctic due to climate change and pollution, more knowledge is needed on how animals cope with attacks on their health.

In the IPY, we will classify the occurrence of pathogens, antibodies, parasites and pollution levels in individually marked wild birds in the Arctic and Antarctic. We will study the immune system by running tests on blood samples or by challenging the individuals and monitor the production of antibodies. Fitness of the birds is measured during sampling as reproductive output or body condition, but also later as e.g. survival. Health can be monitored over time when the individual is repeatedly seen or caught. Finally we will model temporal and spatial variation and relate our findings to climate change, nature management and human health.