Research team

Behavioural Ecology & Ecophysiology

Expertise

My areas of expertise are ecotoxicology, environmental risk assessment and wildlife conservation. One of my lines of research aims to assess the risk of seeds treated with pestiticides for birds. Seed treatments are a method widely used for crop protection. Treated seeds pose a risk to seed-eating birds and mammals that use them as a food source. In my PhD project, I described the toxicological effects of ingesting cereal seeds treated with pesticides (insecticides and fungicides) on the health and reproductive success of red-legged partridges (Alectoris rufa). A second aim was to estimate the risk of exposure of partridges to treated seeds in the field. I am currently working on a project to assess the adverse effects of Perfluoralkyl compounds on birds. These compounds have a wide range of applications such as surface coatings for carpets, textile stain, soil repellents, food contact paper and fire-fighting foams. The extended use of perfluoralkyl compounds, together with their high persistence, has resulted in global contamination of the environment, wildlife and humans. The ubiquity of these compounds contrasts sharply with the limited information about their effects on organisms. With this project, we aim to understand the toxicity mechanism of perfluoralkyl compounds and the biological consequences of exposure to levels present in the environment. Prior to my PhD studies, I worked for five years in the Ebro Delta where I worked as an ornithologist and as bird ringer.

The cascade effect of PFAAs in birds. 01/01/2019 - 31/12/2021

Abstract

Perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs) are highly persistent substances that are found globally in the environment, wildlife and humans. Despite the ubiquity of PFAAs, their toxicological and biological effects have not yet been well characterized. We will assess the effects produced by PFAA compounds in a model species (i.e. canaries), at environmentally realistic concentrations, across different levels of biological organization. For this, we will use an integrative approach that combines the latest techniques in molecular biology with the study of traditional biomarkers. Moreover, behavioural parameters (song behaviour) will also be included in the approach, which has rarely been done in ecotoxicological studies. All this will further enable us to establish linkages between the key events in the biological cascade that lead to effects on the survival or reproduction of the individual. The obtained information will be organised and evaluated, together with existing knowledge, in a standardized way that makes it useful for regulatory purposes. The final construct (Adverse Outcome Pathway) will be presented to the OECD and will help to fill an important knowledge gap.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Assessing the adverse effects of Perfluoralkyl compounds on birds: an integrated field and laboratory approach using passerine birds as model system 01/10/2017 - 30/09/2021

Abstract

Perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs) are substances which have been produced for more than five decades. Their unique properties of repelling both water and oil, make them suitable for many industrial and consumer applications such as water and dirt repellents for cloths and carpets, active components in firefighting foams or precursors in Teflon® production. Its extended use, together with their high persistence, resulted in a global contamination of the environment, wildlife and even humans. This ubiquity contrasts sharply with the limited information about their effects on organisms. With this study I will contribute to finding answers to fill some of the most important knowledge gaps in the toxicity mechanisms of these compounds. For this purpose, I will use two model bird species: great tits (Parus major) and canaries (Serinus canaria). Firstly, I will study the PFAAs exposure levels and the fitness consequences in free-living great tits along a PFAAs gradient from a fluorichemical plant in Antwerp, Belgium. Secondly, I will reproduce the exposure levels in captive canaries in order to replicate the results, found in the field, in a more controlled environment. The studied biomarkers will cover several levels of biological organization, from molecular to individual responses. As a result of my study, the PFAAs toxicity mechanisms will be better understood and their impact at an individual and population level can be more accurately forecasted.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

The cascade effect of PFAAs. Study of the transcriptional response of Canaries to PFAAs and the relationships with effects in successive levels of biological organization. 01/04/2019 - 30/03/2020

Abstract

Perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs) are highly persistent substances that are found globally in the enviroment, wildlife and humans. Despite the ubiquity of PFAAs, their toxicological and biological effects have not yet been well characterized. We will study the transcriptional response of Canaries exposed to enviromentally realistic concentrations of PFAAs using high throughput sequencing. With this we will be able to assess the molecular key events that initiate the toxicity pathway of these compounds. In additon, we will be able to identify and characterize exposure and effect biomarkers, which are crucial to assess the risk of wild populations. Moreover, we will integrate the obtained results in the frame of a biomarker approach, which assesses multiple biomarkers across different levels of biological organization. It will further enable us to establish linkages between key events in the biological cascade that lead to effects on the survival or reproduction of the individual. The obtained knowledge will be used to complete the Adverse Outcome Pathway of PFAAs, an important framework for chemicals regulation.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Filling knowledge gaps in the Adverse Outcome Pathways (AOPs) of Perfluoralkyl compounds: an integrated field and laboratory approach using passerine birds as model system. 01/10/2016 - 30/09/2017

Abstract

Perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs) are substances which have been produced for more than five decades. Their unique properties of repelling both water and oil, make them suitable for many industrial and consumer applications such as water and dirt repellents for cloths and carpets, active components in firefighting foams or precursors in Teflon® production. Its extended use, together with their high persistence, resulted in a global contamination of the environment, wildlife and even humans. This ubiquity contrasts sharply with the limited information about their effects on organisms. With this study I will contribute to finding answers to fill some of the most important knowledge gaps in the toxicity mechanisms of these compounds. For this purpose, I will use two model bird species; great tits (Parus major) and canaries (Serinus canaria). Firstly, I will study the PFAAs exposure levels and the fitness consequences in free-living great tits along a PFAAs gradient from a fluorichemical plant in Antwerp, Belgium. Secondly, I will reproduce the exposure levels in captive canaries in order to replicate the results, found in the field, in a more controlled environment. The studied biomarkers will cover several levels of biological organization; from cellular to population response. As a result of the study, the PFAAs toxicity mechanisms will be better understood and their impact at an individual and population level can be more accurately forecast.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)