Winegrowers using fungicides to control vineyard pests are endangering wild birds, warns new research.
Our feathered friends are susceptible to the toxic chemicals that are used for farming grapes.
Experiments showed exposure can disrupt hormones and metabolism—potentially impacting reproduction and survival.
Senior author Dr. Frederic Angelier, of the French National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris, said: “We found birds can be highly contaminated by triazoles in vineyards.”
“This contamination was much higher in vineyards relative to other crops—emphasizing contaminants may especially put birds at risk in these specific agroecosystems.”
Once they’ve ripened for harvest, vineyard grapes are quite tasty, attracting peckish birds and other animals such as voles or rabbits.
Many vineyards keep intruders at bay through the dedicated, instinctual service of owls, falcons, bluebirds and more.
Birds eat grapes straight off the vine, and some species seem to prefer those not fully ripened—before what we would consider to be fully ready to pick.
Starlings and blackbirds will quickly strip ripening and overripe fruit directly from the vine.
Triazoles are commonly used fungicides that are applied to crops—killing off invaders by destroying cell membranes.
They are highly effective against many plant diseases including powdery mildews, rusts and leaf-spotting fungi. But they are also hormone disrupters.
A major decline in wildlife species over the past 50 years has been linked to intensive farming practices. But the role vineyards are playing in the crisis has been largely overlooked.
Dr. Angelier said: “Vineyards cover a large proportion of lands in some European countries and, importantly, they are associated with massive use of fungicides—up to five to seven times more than in other crops.
“Therefore, vineyards are very relevant agroecosystems to assess the impacts of fungicides on wild birds.”
The team combined measurements of fungicide levels in fields with controlled laboratory tests to analyze impacts on specific aspects of bird health.
Investigations into the effects of pesticides often use higher concentrations than are usually seen in real-world scenarios to illicit stronger reactions.
But Dr. Angelier and colleagues looked at contamination of fungicides in birds living in vineyards, as well as peers from other ecosystems such as forests, cities and crop farms. They then accurately mimicked concentrations found in vineyards under lab conditions to examine their sub-lethal effects on bird physiology and health.
“In that respect, our research helps to better understand how wild birds are affected by pesticides in a realistic world,” added Dr. Angelier. “Impacts to reproduction and survival could lead to a loss of biodiversity or services—such as birds eating other pests.”
The findings were presented at a Society for Experimental Biology Conference in Edinburgh.
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
Edited by Joseph Donald Gunderson and Jessi Rexroad Shull
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