Stress behaviour and physiology of developing Arctic barnacle goslings (Branta leucopsis) is affected by legacy trace contaminants

Isabella B.R. Scheiber*, Brigitte M. Weiß, Margje E. De Jong, Anna Braun, Nico W. Van Den Brink, Maarten J.J.E. Loonen, Eva Millesi, Jan Komdeur

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Natural populations are persistently exposed to environmental pollution, which may adversely impact animal physiology and behaviour and even compromise survival. Responding appropriately to any stressor ultimately might tip the scales for survival, as mistimed behaviour and inadequate physiological responses may be detrimental. Yet effects of legacy contamination on immediate physiological and behavioural stress coping abilities during acute stress are virtually unknown. Here, we assessed these effects in barnacle goslings (Branta leucopsis) at a historical coal mine site in the Arctic. For three weeks we led human-imprinted goslings, collected from nests in unpolluted areas, to feed in an abandoned coal mining area, where they were exposed to trace metals. As control we led their siblings to feed on clean grounds. After submitting both groups to three well-established stress tests (group isolation, individual isolation, on-back restraint), control goslings behaved calmer and excreted lower levels of corticosterone metabolites. Thus, legacy contamination may decisively change stress physiology and behaviour in long-lived vertebrates exposed at a young age.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20181866
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1893
Publication statusPublished - 19 Dec 2018


  • acute stress behaviour
  • Arctic
  • barnacle goose (Branta leucopsis)
  • HPA corticosterone metabolites
  • legacy trace metal contamination
  • stress coping


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