The ingestion of imidacloprid treated seeds by farmland birds may result in exposure to toxic amounts of this insecticide. Here we report on the effects that the exposure to the recommended application rate and to 20% of that rate may produce on birds feeding on treated seeds. Experimental exposure to imidacloprid treated seeds was performed on red-legged partridges (Alectoris rufa) (n=15 pairs per treatment group: control, 20% or 100% of the recommended application rate) during two periods that corresponded to the autumn (duration of exposure: 25 days) and late winter (10 days) cereal sowing times in Spanish farmlands. We studied effects on the survival, body condition, oxidative stress biomarkers, plasma biochemistry, carotenoid-based coloration, T-cell mediated immune response and reproduction of exposed adult partridges, and on the survival and T-cell immune response of their chicks. The high dose (recommended application rate) killed all partridges, with mortality occurring faster in females than in males. The low dose (20% the recommended application rate) had no effect on mortality, but reduced levels of plasma biochemistry parameters (glucose, magnesium and lactate dehydrogenase), increased blood superoxide dismutase activity, produced changes in carotenoid-based integument coloration, reduced the clutch size, delayed the first egg lay date, increased egg yolk vitamins and carotenoids and depressed T-cell immune response of chicks. Moreover, the analysis of the livers of dead partridges revealed an accumulation of imidacloprid during exposure time. Despite the moratorium on the use of neonicotinoids in the European Union, birds may still be at high risk of poisoning by these pesticides through direct sources of exposure to coated seeds in autumn and winter.
Keywords: Breeding success; Coated seeds; Imidacloprid; Insecticide exposure; Sublethal effects.
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