Seabirds and environmental change

The aim of our gull team is to understand patterns of ageing and to identify consequences of environmental pollution on life-history traits in order to assess how species may adapt to these perturbations. Long-lived seabirds such as the common gull (Larus canus) are especially interesting in this context because they are exposed to a cocktails of pollutants, originating from both air and water, and they are at the top of the food chain, meaning they can be impacted by contaminated preys.

Telomeres (a biomarker of ageing), oncogenic, and hormonal processes (such as steroid hormones) are at the core of our researches on gulls. While telomere attrition might be modulated by environmental conditions, inhibition of telomere shortening in cells can lead to malignant processes. In addition, glucocorticoid hormones are considered as environmental messengers fluctuating according to external stimuli that affects a suite of biological processes, including telomere attrition, that may ultimately impair life-history traits such as survival and reproduction.

Among others, our work already showed a possible physiological pathway underlying the age-specific changes in reproductive success of long-lived birds in the wild. More recently, our group highlighted that cancer susceptibility and tumour suppression at the genetic level may differ according to age, but that parental age might not influence offspring telomere length during early life.

At the moment our undergoing projects are focusing on assessing the intergenerational consequences of diverse pollutant levels on health (telomeres, immunity, glucocorticoids) and life history traits of chicks. We also started to link behaviour (evaluated through flight initiation distance) to nest location (edge or core) within the colony and reproductive success.