, Volume 23, Issue 8, pp 1505–1516 | Cite as

An assessment of the developmental toxicity of BDE-99 in the European starling using an integrated laboratory and field approach

  • Margaret L. Eng
  • John E. Elliott
  • Tony D. Williams


Developmental exposure of wildlife to anthropogenic contaminants can have long-term effects that are difficult to assess in field monitoring studies, and may not be evident in laboratory studies that lack ecological components. The objective of this study was to assess the long-term effects of early exposure to contaminants under ecological conditions in a model passerine species, the European starling (Sturnus vulgaris). We selected 2,2′,4,4′,5-pentabromodiphenyl ether (BDE-99) as a representative contaminant, as it is one of the major constituents of the commercial penta-BDE flame retardant mixture, and has been reported in avian egg and tissue samples worldwide. We developed a novel approach to assess the developmental toxicity of BDE-99 in starlings by combining aspects of laboratory and field studies. We dosed free-living nestlings living in natural broods in the field with environmentally relevant concentrations of BDE-99 (0–173.8 ng/g bw/day) for the duration of the nesting cycle. To simulate monitoring of long-term effects we brought birds into captivity just prior to fledging and used photoperiod manipulations to induce reproductive development. We assessed a range of physiological and development measures such as hematocrit, oxidative stress, thyroid hormones, neuroanatomy, growth, molt rate, bill color, and testes development. We found some evidence of thyroid hormone disruption, but there were no effects on any other measures of physiology or development. The European starling could serve as a valuable model species for assessing early exposure and long-term effects of anthropogenic contaminants in terrestrial wildlife using this combined field/laboratory approach.


PBDEs Photoperiod manipulations Thyroid hormones Avian toxicology Songbird European starling 



The authors thank the Ydenbergs for the use of their property, A. Musso (SFU) for field and lab assistance, and L. Periard and R. Letcher (Organic Contaminants Research Laboratory, National Wildlife Research Centre) for previous dose validation. This work was primarily supported by the Chemicals Management Plan of Environment Canada, and was also funded by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council Postgraduate Scholarship to M. L. Eng.

Ethical standards

Experimental work was conducted under a Simon Fraser University Animal Care Committee permit (864B-08) in accordance with guidelines from the Canadian Committee on Animal Care.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Margaret L. Eng
    • 1
  • John E. Elliott
    • 2
  • Tony D. Williams
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesSimon Fraser UniversityBurnabyCanada
  2. 2.Environment Canada, Science and Technology BranchPacific Wildlife Research CentreDeltaCanada

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