Developmental exposure to a toxic spill compromises long-term reproductive performance in a wild, long-lived bird: The white stork (ciconia ciconia)

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Background/Objective: Exposure to environmental contaminants may result in reduced reproductive success and long-lasting population declines in vertebrates. Emerging data from laboratory studies on model species suggest that certain life-stages, such as development, should be of special concern. However, detailed investigations of long-term consequences of developmental exposure to environmental chemicals on breeding performance are currently lacking in wild populations of long-lived vertebrates. Here, we studied how the developmental exposure to a mine spill (Aznalcóllar, SW Spain, April 1998) may affect fitness under natural conditions in a long-lived bird, the White Stork (Ciconia ciconia). Methodology: The reproductive performance of individually-banded storks that were or not developmentally exposed to the spill (i.e. hatched before or after the spill) was compared when these individuals were simultaneously breeding during the seven years after the spill occurred (1999-2005). Principal Findings: Female storks developmentally exposed to the spill experienced a premature breeding senescence compared with their non-developmentally exposed counterparts, doing so after departing from an unusually higher productivity in their early reproductive life (non-developmentally exposed females: 0.5±0.33SE fledglings/year at 3-yr old vs. 1.38±0.31SE at 6-7 yr old; developmentally exposed females: 1.5±0.30SE fledglings/year at 3-yr old vs. 0.86±0.25SE at 6-7 yr old). Conclusions/Significance: Following life-history theory, we propose that costly sub-lethal effects reported in stork nestlings after low-level exposure to the spill-derived contaminants might play an important role in shaping this pattern of reproduction, with a clear potential impact on population dynamics. Overall, our study provides evidence that environmental disasters can have long-term, multigenerational consequences on wildlife, particularly when affecting developing individuals, and warns about the risk of widespread low-level contamination in realistic scenarios. © 2012 Baos et al.




Baos, R., Jovani, R., Serrano, D., Tella, J. L., & Hiraldo, F. (2012). Developmental exposure to a toxic spill compromises long-term reproductive performance in a wild, long-lived bird: The white stork (ciconia ciconia). PLoS ONE, 7(4).

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