Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Do trace metals select for darker birds in urban areas? An experimental exposure to lead and zinc.

Abstract

Trace metals from anthropogenic activities are involved in numerous health impairments and may therefore select for detoxification mechanisms or a higher tolerance. Melanin, responsible for the black and red colourations of teguments, plays a role in metal ion chelation and its synthesis is positively linked to immunity, antioxidant capacity and stress resistance due to pleiotropic effects. Therefore, we expected darker birds to (1) store higher amounts of metals in their feathers, (2) maintain lower metal concentrations in blood and (3) suffer less from metal exposure. We exposed feral pigeons (Columba livia) exhibiting various plumage darkness levels to low, but chronic, concentrations of zinc and/or lead, two of the most abundant metals in urban areas. First, we found negative and positive effects of lead and zinc, respectively, on birds' condition and reproductive parameters. Then, we observed positive relationships between plumage darkness and both zinc and lead concentrations in feathers. Interestingly, though darker adults did not maintain lower metal concentrations in blood and did not have higher fitness parameters, darker juveniles exhibited a higher survival rate than paler ones when exposed to lead. Our results show that melanin-based plumage colouration does modulate lead effects on birds' fitness parameters but that the relationship between metals, melanin, and fitness is more complex than expected and thus stress the need for more studies.