Effects of breeding habitat (woodland versus urban) and metal pollution on the egg characteristics of great tits (**Parus major**)
Faculty of Sciences. Biology
The science of the total environment. - Amsterdam
, p. 31-38
University of Antwerp
In an urban environment, birds are exposed to metals, which may accumulate in their tissues and cause oxidative stress. Female birds may eliminate these pollutants through depositing them into eggs, thus eggs become suitable bioindicators of pollution. In this study, we aimed to analyse whether eggshell spotting pattern, egg volume, eggshell thickness and egg yolk antioxidant (lutein, tocopherol, retinol and selenium) levels were related to the breeding area (woodland versus urban) and the metal levels in the eggshell of a small passerine species, the great tit (Parus major). In the urban habitat, soil and eggshells contained higher concentrations of metals, and soil calcium level was also higher than that in the woodland. Eggshell spotting intensity and egg volume did not differ between eggs laid in the woodland and the urban park, and these traits were not related to the metal levels of the eggshell, suggesting that these egg characteristics are not sensitive indicators of metal pollution. A more aggregated eggshell spotting distribution indicated a higher Cu concentration of the eggshell. We found that eggshells were thinner in the less polluted woodland habitat, which is likely due to the limited Ca availability of the woodland area. Great tit eggs laid in the urban environment had lower yolk lutein, retinol and selenium concentrations, however, as a possible compensation for these lower antioxidant levels, urban females deposited more tocopherol into the egg yolk. It appears that females from different breeding habitats may provide similar antioxidant protection for their offspring against oxidative damage by depositing different specific dietary antioxidants. Egg yolk lutein and retinol levels showed a negative relationship with lead concentration of the eggshell, which may suggest that lead had a negative impact on the amount of antioxidants available for embryos during development in great tits.