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3-year PhD project in France_Arctic Seabird Spatial Ecotoxicology

Jerome Fort, May 20, 2017

3-year PhD project “Exposure of arctic seabirds to pollutants: what is the role played by individual migratory movements and non-breeding distribution?”


Exposure of Arctic wildlife to pollution is a major field of research in the current context of rapid and profound environmental modifications affecting this region. Although laying far from major sources of pollution, the Arctic receives large amounts of pollutants emitted at lower latitudes and transported to the Arctic by atmospheric and oceanic currents. Once in the environment, pollutants enter food chains where their concentrations bioaccumulate in organisms and biomagnify up to top predators. Hence, the concentrations of some pollutants, such as mercury, have increased by a 10-fold in some arctic species over the last 150 years. Other pollutants, such as some perfluorinated compounds, have recently emerged in the Arctic and reach concentrations raising high environmental concerns. Among arctic species, top predators, and particularly seabirds, are the most exposed and thereby the most vulnerable to the environmental pollution due to their high trophic position. Defining and understanding the contamination of arctic predators and seabirds at large spatial scales is therefore a major research objective. More specifically, there is a need to determine pollutant concentrations in several seabird species and arctic sites where they have been poorly explored, but also to better understand how this contamination is linked to animal distribution and movements. Indeed, seabirds are migratory species which can travel over hundreds to thousands of kilometres towards more favourable regions to spend the winter. The location of these wintering areas can be extremely contrasting according to species, populations and individuals. However, seabird exposure to pollutants during this non-breeding period often spent outside of the Arctic, and the variability of this exposure according to their non-breeding distribution and migratory strategies is almost unknown. This is unfortunate since this non-Arctic non-breeding contamination and the subsequent impacts could indirectly impact the entire Arctic ecosystems.

This PhD project will therefore aim to understand, at large scales, spatial and seasonal variations in the contamination of Arctic seabirds and the role played by their non-breeding distribution and migratory movements. To this end, it will focus on various seabird species with contrasting trophic ecologies (feeding habitats and diet). It will also include the study of different populations distributed at several Arctic sites and for which non-breeding distributions vary.


1) Investigate, at large scale, the seasonal mercury contamination of Arctic seabirds, and evaluate the role played by the non-Arctic non-breeding period on their exposure to mercury. Blood and feather samples will be analysed, reflecting bird short-term (breeding) and long-term (non-breeding) contamination, respectively. This objective will involve collaborations with a large international and pan-Arctic network. 2) Examine how Arctic seabird distribution (both in the Arctic (breeding season) and outside of the Arctic (non-breeding period)) and migratory strategies affect their exposure to contaminants (mercury and POPs). Distribution data will be derived from the use of Geolocator devices under collaborations with the Norwegian project SEATRACK led by the Norwegian Polar Institute and the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, as well as with French research teams from the CEFE, the CEBC and BIOGEOSCIENCE institutes and the French Polar Institute (IPEV). This objective will also involve collaborative work with the EPOC institute (Bordeaux, France, H. Budzinski and P. Labadie). 3) Study the use of mercury isotopes to trace the spatial origin of seabird contamination during the non-Arctic non-breeding period. The analysis of mercury isotopes is an emerging and promising method to study mercury origin in the environment, including the trophic origin of animal contamination. Nevertheless, mercury isotopes have scarcely been used in Arctic organisms or as a spatial tracer of their large-scale contamination. This objective will involve collaborative work with the IPREM institute (Pau, France, D. Amouroux).

This 3-year PhD project will start on October 1st, 2017. The PhD student will be based at the LIENSs laboratory ( in La Rochelle, France. The PhD student will be supervised by Dr Jérôme Fort and will work in close collaboration with researchers from various French and international institutes.

Funding for this PhD project is secured through a PhD grant from the University of La Rochelle and different ongoing research projects.

To apply, please send your CV and a cover letter to Jérôme Fort ( and Paco Bustamante ( Deadline for application is June 14. Interviews of selected candidates will take place early July.