Research: Impacts of Agricultural Pesticides and Persistent Organic Pollutants on Neotropical Migratory Birds

PhD student Alejandra Maldonado has been doing research in the San Luis community on migratory songbirds with her undergraduate field assistant, Faith Byrd. Both students are in the Wildlife and Fisheries Science department at Texas A&M.

Alejandra has been doing field research in Texas, Mexico, and Costa Rica. She uses mist nets to capture birds. If a target species is captured, she collects blood from the bird, euthanizes the specimen, collects the first and second primary feathers, and places the bird on ice for further research. All methods have been approved by the Texas A&M University Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.

Her research has many benefits in the protection and conservation of migratory songbirds. Also, working abroad, as well in the United States, helps to foster a larger concern on how pollutants are affecting a population that moves through multiple countries. This shared concern is important because the migratory songbird population is important because it plays many roles in the ecosystem such as predator and seed disperser.

Taken from the official project plan, the four main objectives of her research are:

I. Determine accumulation and seasonal variation of contaminants in Neotropical
migratory songbirds.
II. Assess the sublethal impacts of contaminants on migratory birds by evaluating
genetic damage and cholinesterase activity.
III. Evaluate the method of using dried blood spots as a biomonitoring tool to
measure cholinesterase activity.
IV. Determine if there are significant changes in diet using stable isotopes of C and N
during migration.

Article and photos: Kristy L. Densmore, photojournalism intern

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