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1.  To breed or not to breed: endocrine response to mercury contamination by an Arctic seabird 
Biology Letters  2013;9(4):20130317.
Mercury, a ubiquitous toxic element, is known to alter expression of sex steroids and to impair reproduction across vertebrates but the mechanisms underlying these effects are not clearly identified. We examined whether contamination by mercury predicts the probability to skip reproduction in black-legged kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla) from Svalbard. We also manipulated the endocrine system to investigate the mechanism underlying this relationship. During the pre-laying period, we injected exogenous GnRH (gonadotropin-releasing hormone) to test the ability of the pituitary to release luteinizing hormone (LH, a key hormone for the release of sex steroids and hence breeding) in relation to mercury burden. Birds that skipped reproduction had significantly higher mercury concentration in blood than breeders. Endocrine profiles of these birds also varied based on breeding status (breeders versus non-breeders), mercury contamination and sex. Specifically, in skippers (birds that did not breed), baseline LH decreased with increasing mercury concentration in males, whereas it increased in females. GnRH-induced LH levels increased with increasing mercury concentration in both sexes. These results suggest that mercury contamination may disrupt GnRH input to the pituitary. Thus, high mercury concentration could affect the ability of long-lived birds to modulate their reproductive effort (skipping or breeding) according to ongoing environmental changes in the Arctic, thereby impacting population dynamics.
doi:10.1098/rsbl.2013.0317
PMCID: PMC3730643  PMID: 23720523
intermittent breeding; mercury; GnRH challenge; luteinizing hormone; black-legged kittiwake
2.  Age-Related Mercury Contamination and Relationship with Luteinizing Hormone in a Long-Lived Antarctic Bird 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(7):e103642.
Seabirds, as long-lived top predators, accumulate contaminants such as mercury (Hg), an established endocrine disruptor. In long lived species hormonal secretion varies with age; therefore, Hg-induced endocrine disruption may be exacerbated in some age classes. Here we investigated relationships between blood total Hg and luteinizing hormone (LH, a key pituitary hormone for the onset of breeding), in pre-laying known-age (11–45 years old) snow petrels (Pagodroma nivea) from Adélie Land, Antarctica. We predicted that 1) blood Hg would increase with advancing age as a consequence of bio-accumulation; and that 2) increasing blood Hg would be related to decreased concentrations of LH in the most Hg-contaminated individuals. Hg concentrations were higher in females than in males (p<0.001), and contrary to our prediction, decreased with advancing age in males (p = 0.009) and tended to do so in females (p = 0.06). The analysis of stable isotopes (δ13C and δ15N) suggested that this unexpected pattern could originate from age and sex-related variations in trophic niche, and hence Hg exposure. Regarding LH, our prediction was only supported in young birds (≤23 years) where baseline LH was inversely correlated with Hg concentrations (p = 0.04). Hg burden did not predict baseline LH or GnRH-induced LH in birds that were more than 23 years old. These results show that age and contaminants may interfere with major endocrine mechanisms and, together with other recent studies, support the view that Hg could be connected to LH secretion and could then impair the fitness of long-lived birds.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0103642
PMCID: PMC4114970  PMID: 25072936
3.  Diatom-Specific Highly Branched Isoprenoids as Biomarkers in Antarctic Consumers 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(2):e56504.
The structure, functioning and dynamics of polar marine ecosystems are strongly influenced by the extent of sea ice. Ice algae and pelagic phytoplankton represent the primary sources of nutrition for higher trophic-level organisms in seasonally ice-covered areas, but their relative contributions to polar marine consumers remain largely unexplored. Here, we investigated the potential of diatom-specific lipid markers and highly branched isoprenoids (HBIs) for estimating the importance of these two carbon pools in an Antarctic pelagic ecosystem. Using GC-MS analysis, we studied HBI biomarkers in key marine species over three years in Adélie Land, Antarctica: euphausiids (ice krill Euphausia crystallorophias and Antarctic krill E. superba), fish (bald notothens Pagothenia borchgrevinki and Antarctic silverfish Pleuragramma antarcticum) and seabirds (Adélie penguins Pygoscelis adeliae, snow petrels Pagodroma nivea and cape petrels Daption capense). This study provides the first evidence of the incorporation of HBI lipids in Antarctic pelagic consumers. Specifically, a di-unsaturated HBI (diene) of sea ice origin was more abundant in ice-associated species than in pelagic species, whereas a tri-unsaturated HBI (triene) of phytoplanktonic origin was more abundant in pelagic species than in ice-associated species. Moreover, the relative abundances of diene and triene in seabird tissues and eggs were higher during a year of good sea ice conditions than in a year of poor ice conditions. In turn, the higher contribution of ice algal derived organic matter to the diet of seabirds was related to earlier breeding and higher breeding success. HBI biomarkers are a promising tool for estimating the contribution of organic matter derived from ice algae in pelagic consumers from Antarctica.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0056504
PMCID: PMC3572049  PMID: 23418580
4.  Why do some adult birds skip breeding? A hormonal investigation in a long-lived bird 
Biology Letters  2011;7(5):790-792.
Skipping reproduction is often observed in long-lived organisms, but proximate mechanisms remain poorly understood. Since young and/or very old snow petrels (Pagodroma nivea) commonly skip breeding, we tested whether they are physiologically able to breed during the pre-laying stage. To do so, we measured the ability of known-age (11–45 years old) petrels to release luteinizing hormone (LH, a crucial driver for breeding), by injecting exogenous gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). Although young petrels exhibited low baseline LH levels, they were able to elevate LH levels after a GnRH challenge. Moreover, young and very old petrels showed a stronger decrease in LH levels after the 10 min post-GnRH injection compared with middle-aged petrels. Birds that skipped breeding were as able as breeders to release LH after a GnRH challenge, indicating that they had functional pituitaries. However, the decision to skip reproduction was linked to a strong LH decrease after the 10 min post-GnRH injection. Our result suggests that the youngest and the oldest petrels fail to maintain elevated baseline LH levels, thereby do not initiate reproductive activities. Skipping reproduction in long-lived birds probably results from age-related changes in the dynamics of the hypothalamic–pituitary–gonadal (HPG) axis function.
doi:10.1098/rsbl.2011.0196
PMCID: PMC3169054  PMID: 21508027
intermittent breeding; age; GnRH challenge; luteinizing hormone; snow petrels

Results 1-4 (4)