Research database

Project information
Multiple stressors, seabirds, pollution, effects
Project title
Multi-stress relationships in seabird populations: interactions between natural stressors and environmental contaminants
Project leader
Jan Ove Bustnes
Geographical localization of the research project in decimal degrees (max 5 per project, ex. 70,662°N and 23,707°E)
78°55'0"N, 11°56'0"E




Leader: Jan Ove Bustnes, NINA


Co-leader : Geir Wing Gabrielsen, NPI


Participant: Børge Moe, NINA


Participant: Bård Jørgen Bårdsen, NINA


Participant: Sveinn Are Hanssen, NINA


Participant: Dorte Herzke, NILU


Participant: Kjetil Sagerup, APN


Participant: Olivier Chastel, Chizé, France



Hazardous Substances
Funding Source


Summary of Results


1.       Summary of results, including 2-3 highlights from the project (max 1 A4 page, figures can be attached separately):



1.       Published results in 2018 show that persistent pollutants have great potential to affect eider duck populations when other stressors (climate, predation etc.) are elevated

2.       Diet and migration strategies are major determinants for the contaminant exposure in a top predator seabird (the great skua), with a temperate-arctic distribution, rather than long-range contaminant transport.

3.       Kittiwakes exposed to high levels of fluorinated pollutants suffers higher oxidative damage and lower antioxidant defense.


Seabirds are among the species most vulnerable to bio-magnifying environmental contaminants, and the main objective of this project is to document concentrations, distributions and effects of different environmental contaminants in northern seabird populations.  Special focus is on how environmental contaminants may function in concert with other natural and anthropogenic stressors; i.e. a multi-stress perspective.


The project studies different seabird species at Kongsfjorden, Svalbard. Prime species of interest are the common eider, the kittiwake, the glaucous gull, and skuas (great skua and arctic skua). These species represent different food chains (benthic, pelagic and scavenging). In 2018 new data have been collected for kittiwake, eiders and glaucous gulls and arctic skuas from Kongsfjorden in Svalbard.  The project is a continuation of the NFR projects COPOL AVITOX (2014-2016).


For kittiwakes, data have been collected from a study colony in Kongsfjord; in 2018 for the 12’th year in a row.  Within the multistress seabird project, a cooperation with the group of Olivier Chastel has resulted in 2 papers in 2018 (Blevin et al. 2019, Constantini et al. 2019). Among these studies, we will particularly mention the finding that incubation ability was weakened in birds with high concentrations of oxychlordane, a very toxic metabolite of chlordane (Blevin et al. 2018), and that Kittiwakes exposed to high levels of fluorinated pollutants suffers higher oxidative damage and lower antioxidant defense (Constantini et al. 2018). In 2018, Olivier Chastel’s group has continued research on kittiwakes in Kongsfjorden, focusing especially on potential effects of POPs.


For the great skua, the Flagship funding has enabled continuous work using data from the NFR funded SKUA project. One paper on the effect of transport and diet on legacy contaminants in great skua across the Northeast Atlantic has been published in 2018 (Leat et al. 2019).


Blood samples have been taken from a large number of arctic skuas that have been equipped with GLS loggers. Preliminary results indicate that these birds carry contaminants from their wintering grounds in the Southern Ocean to the Arctic (Hanssen et al. in prep). A cooperation to analyze these data has been established with UiO (Katrine Borgå).


Modelling exercises have been carried out for common eiders by Bård-Jørgen Bårdsen, which has had the aim to understand the potential impact that POPs have in causing ecological effects in this species. A paper has been published in 2018 (Bårdsen et al. 2018) showing that persistent pollutants have great potential to affect eider duck populations when other stressors (climate, predation etc.) are elevated.


Finally, in 2016 Ane Haarr defended her MSc thesis on gentox in several arctic seabird species, and the thesis has now been published (Haarr et al. 2018).











For the Management


This project shows that pollutants may have great effects if combined with other stressors. Hence, the effects of given concentrations of POPs may be different depending on other factors. This is important to keep in mind when establishing safe levels of contaminants. 


Published Results/Planned Publications


Haarr, A., Eckbo, N., Hylland, K., Gabrielsen, G.W., Herzke, D., Bustnes, J.O., Blévin, P., Chastel, O., Moe, B., Hanssen, S.A., Sagerup, K. & Borgå, K. 2018. DNA damage in breeding arctic seabirds: baseline, sensitivity to oxidative stress and association to organohalogenated contaminants. Environmental Toxicology & Chemistry 37:1084-1091.




Bårdsen, B.J., Hanssen, S.A. & Bustnes, J.O. 2018. Multiple stressors in a sub-arctic marine bird: modelling the effect of pollution, climate change and predation on demography and population viability. Ecosphere 9: e02342




Leat, E.H.K, Bourgeon, S., Hanssen, S.A., Petersen, A., Strøm, H., Bjørn, T.H., Gabrielsen, G.W., Fisk, A.T., Bustnes, J.O., Furness, R.W. & Borgå, K. 2019. The effect of long-range transport, trophic position and diet specialization on legacy contaminant occurrence in great skuas, Stercorarius skua, breeding across the Northeast Atlantic. Environmental Pollution 244: 55-65.




Blévin, P., Schaffer, S.A., Bustamante, P., Angelier, F., Tartu, S., Baptiste, P., Herzke, D., Moe, B., Gabrielsen, G.W., Bustnes, J.O. & Chastel, O. 2019. Organochlorines, perfluoroalkyl substances, mercury and egg incubation temperature in an Arctic seabird: insight from data loggers. Environmental Toxicology & Chemistry




Costantini, D., Blévin, P., Herzke, D., Moe, B., Gabrielsen, G.W., Bustnes, J.O. & Chastel, O. 2019. Higher oxidative damage and lower plasma antioxidant defences in an Arctic seabird exposed to long-chain perfluorinated alkyl acids. Environmental Research 168: 278-285.






Nicholas A. Warner, Kjetil Sagerup, Siv Kristoffersen, Dorte Herzke, Geir W. Gabrielsen, Bjørn M. Jenssen. Snow buntings as bio-indicators for exposure differences in legacy and emerging persistent organic pollutants from the Arctic terrestrial environment on Svalbard.


Communicated Results


Bustnes, J.O., Bårdsen, B.J., Sagerup, K., Gabrielsen, G.W. Multiple stressors: why even low levels of pollution threatends top predator birds. Fram Forum: 2018: 95-97,
 "Varmere hav i nord er dårlig nytt for ærfuglen", 25.09.2018 (


Varmere hav i nord er dårlig nytt for ærfuglen“, 17.09.2018 (Framsenteret; og 18.09.2018 (KLIMA - Et magasin om klimaforskning fra CICERO:; NINA nett:


Interdisciplinary Cooperation

Ecology, physiology, chemistry

Budget in accordance to results


Could results from the project be subject for any commercial utilization

Understanding variation and impacts of POPs in the vulnerable ecosystems of the north is a long-term endeavor. In this respect this project is important because it allows us to have a long horizon on our research. The project is now starting to generate new results, both with regard to trends and effects of POPs that is novel to ecotoxicology.