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Metal Pollution and Oxidative Stress: Exploring effects on aging rate, behavior and fitness.

Toxic pollutants increasingly threaten the integrity of natural populations. Metal pollution can have particularly detrimental effects on organisms and entire ecosystems. One potent means by which metal pollution may affect organisms is by elevating oxidative stress, resulting in biomolecular damage and fitness declines. However, the long-term behavioral and fitness implications of metal-induced oxidative stress are poorly understood. Using great tits (Parus major) as a model species, I propose to comprehensively explore how metal pollution affects oxidative stress, aging rate, behavior and fitness. I will perform the first study to examine whether metal-induced oxidative stress affects aging rate, on the molecular level as indicated by telomere degradation, and in terms of sexual signals and fitness traits. I will also explore effects of metal pollution on risk-taking behavior, which may be altered via effects of oxidative stress on neural function and life history decisions. I will study nest box populations of great-tits located across a metal pollution gradient. Experimental approaches will include exposing nestlings to metals and antioxidants, a parental risk-taking experiment, and measuring exploratory behavior in the laboratory. This study will make a pioneering contribution to evolutionary biology by testing the oxidative stress theory of aging in the context of metal pollution, and have critical importance to ecotoxicology and conservation biology.
Date:1 Oct 2016  →  30 Sep 2019
Disciplines:Ecology, Environmental science and management, Other environmental sciences