Health assessment of tree swallows (tachycineta bicolor) nesting on the Athabasca Oil Sands, Alberta
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Oil sands mining companies in Alberta, Canada, are planning to create wetlands for the bioremediation of mining waste materials as part of a reclamation strategy. To assess feasibility, experimental wetlands mimicking proposed reclamation scenarios were constructed on mining leases. This research assessed the health of tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) nesting on these sites where they were naturally exposed to a mixture of chemicals including unrecovered bitumen, naphthenic acids (NAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Endpoints reflecting health were compared among three experimental wetlands and one reference site. In order to specifically investigate toxicity of NAs to birds, an experimental exposure to NAs was also conducted on a subset of nestlings on the reference site. In 2003 and 2004, approximately 50 breeding pairs (total, per year) nesting on the following sites were monitored: Suncor’s “Consolidated Tailings” and “Natural Wetlands”; Syncrude’s “Demo Pond” and “Poplar Creek” reference site. In 2003, reproductive success was very low on OSPM-sites compared to the reference site, but was relatively unaffected in 2004. Compromised reproductive performance in 2003 was linked to harsh weather, during which mortality rates of nestlings reached 100% on the site with the highest levels of PAHs and NAs, while they did not surpass 50% on the reference site. In 2004, mortality rates were low but nestlings from OSPM-sites weighed less and showed greater hepatic detoxification efforts (etoxyresorufin-o-deethylase activity) than those on the reference site. Furthermore, nestlings on OSPM-sites exhibited higher levels of thyroid hormones and suffered parasitic burdens (Protocalliphora spp.) approximately twice that of those on the reference site. Several of these findings may be associated with low post-fledging survival, suggesting that wet landscape reclamation strategy is not optimal for avian species and may require improvement. As part of a separate study investigating toxicity of naphthenic acids, twenty nestlings from the reference site were randomly selected for an experimental exposure. Nestlings received 0.1 ml/day of NAs (15g/L) orally from day 7 to day 13 of age while being reared normally by their free-ranging parents. Nestling growth, hematocrit, blood biochemistry, organ weights and etoxyresorufin-o-deethylase activity (EROD) activity appeared unaffected by naphthenic acids. No toxic changes were detected on histopathological evaluation of major organs. These findings suggest that for nestlings reared on oil sands reclaimed sites, exposure to other chemicals such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons is a greater concern than exposure to NAs. However, this study did not investigate the chronic or reproductive toxicity of naphthenic acids. More research still needs to be conducted as a part of an assessment of the sustainability of wet landscape reclamation because a previous study found that chronic exposure to NAs severely compromised reproduction in mammals.
DegreeMaster of Science (M.Sc.)
Copyright DateMarch 2006
Athabasca Oil Sands