© 2018 Elsevier B.V. Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are still globally distributed and some have been shown to interact with the endocrine system of birds. However, the relationship between POPs and the stress response mediated by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is still poorly understood. Raising concerns are now focused on the toxic properties of emergent organophosphate ester flame retardants (OPEs), but whether OPEs interact with the HPA axis response has not yet been investigated. We measured corticosterone concentrations in feathers (CORTf) as a long-term biomarker of the bird HPA axis response and we investigated their relationship with POP and OPE concentrations in down feathers of nestling cinereous vultures (Aegypius monachus). We also examined whether high contaminant burden and high CORTf concentrations impacted the duration of chick development. The most predominant compounds were the following: p,p′-DDE (3.28 ± 0.26 ng g−1 dw) > γ-HCH (0.78 ± 0.09 ng g−1 dw) > BDE-99 (0.73 ± 0.09 ng g−1 dw) > CB-153 (0.67 ± 0.04 ng g−1 dw). The most persistent POP compounds (CB-170, -177, -180, -183, -187, -194 and p,p′-DDE) were associated (P = 0.02) with high concentrations of CORTf (range: 0.55–6.09 pg mm−1), while no relationship was found when OPEs were tested (P > 0.05). Later egg-laying was positively associated to high levels of CORTf (P = 0.02) and reduced duration of chick development (P < 0.001), suggesting a beneficial effect of the HPA axis response on the growth of the chicks. In addition, males with high concentrations of the most persistent POP compounds tended to show a reduced duration of the nestling period (P = 0.05) and an equal fledging success than chicks with lower levels. These findings suggest that POPs, but not OPEs, may interact with the HPA axis response of chicks, although levels were not high enough to cause detrimental consequences.
- Down feathers
- Stress response