Assessment of the effects of early life exposure to triphenyl phosphate on fear, boldness, aggression, and activity in Japanese quail (Coturnix japonica) chicks

Environ Pollut. 2020 Mar:258:113695. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2019.113695. Epub 2019 Dec 3.


Triphenyl phosphate (TPHP) is an organophosphate ester (OPE) used as a flame retardant (FR) and plasticizer. TPHP has previously been shown to disrupt behaviour in fish and mammals, but to our knowledge, this is the first study on the behavioural effects of TPHP in birds. Early life stage Japanese quail (Coturnix japonica) were exposed to nominal doses of 0 ng/g (vehicle-control), 5 ng/g (low dose), 50 ng/g (mid dose), and 100 ng/g (high dose) TPHP, both as embryos (via air cell injection prior to incubation) and as chicks (via daily gavage until 5 days post-hatch). The low dose reflects TPHP levels recorded in wild avian eggs, but actual environmental exposure levels may be higher given that TPHP is known to be rapidly metabolized in birds. We previously reported that the chicks exposed to TPHP in this study experienced reduced growth and resting metabolic rate, and sex-specific changes in thyroid function. The current study focuses on behavioural endpoints. We found that high-TPHP chicks exhibited less neophobia than vehicle-controls, and low-TPHP chicks exhibited more aggression towards conspecifics. No differences were observed in the responses of Japanese quail chicks to activity or tonic immobility (fear response) tests. These data add weight of evidence to previous findings suggesting that TPHP, among other OPEs, can disrupt ecologically-relevant behaviours in exposed vertebrates.

Keywords: Aggression; Behaviour; Bird; Boldness; Flame retardant; Triphenyl phosphate.

MeSH terms

  • Aggression*
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects*
  • Coturnix*
  • Fear*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Organophosphates / adverse effects*


  • Organophosphates
  • triphenyl phosphate