Jim Clapp (University of Ulster) will reveal how bird droppings can be used to measure radioactive fall-out in the environment. Solid urate spheres found in bird excretions can be screened for man-made pollutants such as radioactive caesium, providing a new non-invasive way to monitor the environment. Mr. Clapp will present his latest results today at the annual meeting of the Society for Experimental Biology at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh (29 March – 2 April 2004).
“This is a new method which does not interfere with the birds or with the environment” explains Mr. Clapp. “There is no need to sacrifice birds or disrupt them, which may cause them to leave their breeding site”. The technique involves collecting solid urate spheres found in bird droppings and testing the levels of contaminants against the amount of uric acid in the spheres. Solid urine is ideal since it remains in place for several days, can be collected year-round without disturbing the birds, and birds excrete toxins and their metabolites in their urine so it provides a direct measure of the toxicity of their environment.
Mr. Clapp expects that this new technique can easily be extended to test for other man-made pollutants such as heavy metals and toxins in the near future. “If there are any concerns about a particular site, we can identify a local bird population and use this new technique to test the level of pollutants.” says Mr. Clapp.
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