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First evaluation of the use of down feathers for monitoring persistent organic pollutants and organophosphate ester flame retardants: A pilot study using nestlings of the endangered cinereous vulture (Aegypius monachus)

Monclús, Laura, Lopez-Bejar, Manel, De la Puente, Javier, Covaci, Adrian, Jaspers, Veerle L.B.
Environmental pollution 2018 v.238 pp. 413-420
Aegypius monachus, DDE (pesticide), chicks, ecotoxicology, eggs, environmental monitoring, feathers, flame retardants, hexachlorobenzene, juveniles, lindane, nestlings, persistent organic pollutants, phosphates, polybrominated diphenyl ethers, polychlorinated biphenyls, vultures
Raptor feathers have been increasingly used to assess pollutants in ecotoxicological monitoring studies. However, the suitability of down feathers to detect pollutants has not yet been investigated. In this study, concentrations of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and organophosphate ester flame retardants (OPEs) were assessed in down and juvenile contour feathers of Spanish cinereous vulture (Aegypius monachus) nestlings (circa 73 days old) and contaminant concentrations were compared between both types of feathers from the same individuals. Concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs: 1.30–6.16 ng g−1 dw feather), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs: 0.23–1.35 ng g−1 dw feather), p,p'-dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (pp-DDE: 0.09–6.10 ng g−1 dw feather) and tris (1-chloro-2-propyl) phosphate (TCiPP: 0.86–48.96 ng g−1 dw feather) were significantly higher in down than in contour feathers. In contrast, contour feathers showed higher levels of the more volatile POP, lindane (0.25–3.12 ng g−1 dw feather). Concentrations of hexachlorobenzene (HCB) and OPEs (except TCiPP) were similar between the two types of feathers. By showing high accumulation of the most persistent POPs investigated, down feathers presented a contamination profile similar to that previously described in raptor eggs. As these feathers grow during the first days of a vulture chicks life, they probably reflect the contaminant burden of the chick due to maternal transfer to the egg. Overall, the present study provides the first indication that down feathers may be useful for biomonitoring studies. Further research is needed to confirm whether nestling down feathers reflect the concentrations in the egg.