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    Species traits predict the aryl hydrocarbon receptor 1 (AHR1) subtypes responsible for dioxin sensitivity in birds
    (Nature Portfolio, 2020) Bianchini, Kristin; Morrissey, Christy
    Differences in avian sensitivity to dioxin-like compounds (DLCs) are directly attributable to the identities of amino acids at two sites within the ligand binding domain (LBD) of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor 1 (AHR1). Recent work suggests that by influencing avian exposure to naturally occurring dioxins, differences in diet, habitat, and migration may have influenced the evolution of three AHR1 LBD genotypes in birds: type 1 (high sensitivity), type 2 (moderate sensitivity), and type 3 (low sensitivity). Using a boosted regression tree (BRT) analysis, we built on previous work by examining the relationship between a comprehensive set of 17 species traits, phylogeny, and the AHR1 LBD across 89 avian species. The 17 traits explained a combined 74% of the model deviance, while phylogenetic relatedness explained only 26%. The strongest predictors of AHR1 LBD were incubation period and habitat type. We found that type 3 birds tended to occupy aquatic habitats, and, uniquely, we also found that type 3 birds tended to have slower developmental rates. We speculate that this reflects higher evolutionary exposure to naturally occurring dioxins in waterbirds and species with K-selected life histories. This study highlights the value of trait-based approaches in helping to understand differing avian species sensitivities to environmental contaminants.
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    The relative contribution of individual quality and changing climate as drivers of lifetime reproductive success in a short‑lived avian species
    (Nature Portfolio, 2020) Berzins, Lisha L.; Dawson, Russell D.; Morrissey, Christy; Clark, Robert
    Animal populations are influenced strongly by fluctuations in weather conditions, but long-term fitness costs are rarely explored, especially in short-lived avian species. We evaluated the relative contributions of individual characteristics and environmental conditions to lifetime reproductive success (LRS) of female tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) from two populations breeding in contrasting environments and geographies, Saskatchewan and British Columbia, Canada. Female swallows achieved higher LRS by breeding early in the season and producing more fledglings. Other measures of female quality had virtually no influence on LRS. Genetic factors did not predict LRS, as there was no correlation between life-history components for sister pairs nor between mothers and their daughters. Instead, climate variability—indexed by spring pond density (i.e., abundance of wetland basins holding water) during years when females bred—had strong positive effects on female LRS in more arid Saskatchewan but only weak positive effects of moisture conditions were detected in wetter British Columbia. Overall, several life history trait correlates of LRS were similar between populations, but local environmental factors experienced by individuals while breeding produced large differences in LRS. Consequently, variable and extreme environmental conditions associated with changing climate are predicted to influence individual fitness of distinct populations within a species’ range.
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    Spatio-Temporal Patterns of Crops and Agrochemicals in Canada Over 35 Years
    (Frontiers Media SA, 2020) Malaj, Egina; Levi, Freistadt; Morrissey, Christy
    In an effort to feed a growing world population, agriculture has rapidly intensified over the last six decades, relying heavily on agrochemicals (fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides) to increase and maintain desired crop yields. Despite environmental concerns in Canada’s agricultural regions, long-term patterns of changing crops and the associated trends in the proportion of cropland treated with agrochemicals are poorly documented. Using the Canadian Census of Agriculture, we compiled historical data over 35 years (eight census periods: 1981–2016) on agrochemical applications, measured as the proportion of cropland treated with pesticides and fertilizers and the associated crop classes, to identify and interpret spatial and temporal trends in Canada’s agricultural practices across 260 census units. Due to differences in agricultural practices, soil, and climatic conditions across the country, the Pacific (British Columbia), Prairie (Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba), Central (Ontario, Quebec), and Atlantic (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland/Labrador, Prince Edward Island) regions were analyzed separately. Most of the agrochemicals in Canada were applied in the Prairie and Central regions, which combined comprise 97% of the total cropland. Fertilizers were the dominant agrochemicals across Canada applied on 48% (Pacific) to 78% (Prairie) of the total cropland area, followed by herbicides, which were applied on 30% (Pacific) to 81% (Prairie) of the total cropland area in 2016. Notably, we observed significant changes between 1996 and 2016 in area treated with fungicides and insecticides, which increased by 412% and 50% in the Prairie region and by 291% and 149% in the Central region, respectively. The proportion and distribution of crops shifted in favor of more oilseeds and soybeans in the most intensive Prairie and Central regions, whereas cereals decreased over the same time period. Our analysis of past and current trends of agrochemicals and cropping patterns within Canada indicates a rapid and systemic increase in chemical use, and policies that promote a shift toward lower chemical reliance through sustainable agricultural practices are urgently needed.
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    Part-per-trillion LC-MS/MS determination of neonicotinoids in small volumes of songbird plasma
    (Elsevier, 12/10/2018) Hao, Chunyan; Eng, Margaret; Morrissey, Christy; Sun, Fengrong
    Neonicotinoids are the most widely used class of insecticides in the world, and there are increasing concerns about their effects on non-target organisms. Analytical methods to diagnose exposure to neonicotinoids in wildlife are still very limited, particularly for small animals such as songbirds. Blood can be used as a non-lethal sampling matrix, but the sample volume is limited by body size. Neonicotinoids have a low bioaccumulation potential and are rapidly metabolized, therefore, sensitive assays are critically needed to reliably detect their residues in blood samples. We developed an efficient LC-MS/MS method at a part-per-trillion (pg/ml) level to measure eight neonicotinoid related insecticides (acetamiprid, clothianidin, dinotefuran, flonicamid, imidacloprid, nitenpyram, thiacloprid and thiamethoxam) plus one metabolite (6-chloronicotinic acid) in small volumes (50 μL) of avian plasma. The average recovery of target compounds ranged from 95.7 to 101.3%, and relative standard deviations were between 0.82 and 2.13%. We applied the method to screen blood samples from 36 seed-eating songbirds (white-crowned sparrows; Zonotrichia leucophrys) at capture, and detected imidacloprid in 78% (28 of 36), thiamethoxam in 22% (8 of 36), thiacloprid in 11% (4 of 36), and acetamiprid in 11% (4 of 36) of wild-caught sparrows. 6 h after capture, birds were orally dosed with 0 (control), 1.2 or 3.9 mg of imidacloprid/kg bw, test results using this method indicated that plasma imidacloprid was significantly elevated (low 26-times, high 316-times) in exposed groups. This is the first study to confirm neonicotinoid exposure in small free-living songbirds through non-lethal blood sampling, and to demonstrate that environmentally realistic doses significantly elevate circulating imidacloprid concentrations. This sensitive method could be applied to characterize exposure to neonicotinoids in free-living wildlife and in toxicological studies.
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    A neonicotinoid insecticide reduces fueling and delays migration in songbirds
    (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 9/13/2019) Eng, Margaret; Stutchbury, Bridget; Morrissey, Christy
    Neonicotinoids are neurotoxic insecticides widely used as seed treatments, but little is known of their effects on migrating birds that forage in agricultural areas. We tracked the migratory movements of imidacloprid-exposed songbirds at a landscape scale using a combination of experimental dosing and automated radio telemetry. Ingestion of field-realistic quantities of imidacloprid (1.2 or 3.9 milligrams per kilogram body mass) by white-crowned sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys) during migratory stopover caused a rapid reduction in food consumption, mass, and fat and significantly affected their probability of departure. Birds in the high-dose treatment stayed a median of 3.5 days longer at the site of capture after exposure as compared with controls, likely to regain fuel stores or recover from intoxication. Migration delays can carry over to affect survival and reproduction; thus, these results confirm a link between sublethal pesticide exposure and adverse outcomes for migratory bird populations.