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Wild birds are significantly threatened by vineyard fungicides

According to a recent study  presented at the Society for Experimental Biology (SEB) Centenary Conference, wild birds living in vineyards are highly susceptible to contamination by triazole fungicides,. This is a group of substances widely used to control fungal diseases in various crops, plants, and other agricultural settings. 

The experts discovered that exposure to such fungicides at a field-realistic level can disrupt birds’ hormones and metabolism and thus impact their reproduction and survival.

“We found that birds can be highly contaminated by triazoles in vineyards,” said study leader Frédéric Angelier, a senior researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research.

“This contamination was much higher in vineyards relative to other crops, emphasizing that contaminants may especially put birds at risk in these specific agroecosystems.”

Although many previous studies of wildlife declines have already assessed the impact of various agricultural industries, until now the role of vineyards has largely been overlooked. 

“However, vineyards cover a large proportion of lands in some European countries and, importantly, they are associated with a massive use of fungicides (up to 5-7 times more than in other crops). Therefore, vineyards are very relevant agroecosystems to assess the impacts of fungicides on wild birds,” Angelier explained.

How the research on wild birds was conducted 

To examine the effects of such fungicides on specific aspects of bird health, the scientists combined field experiments designed to measure real-world fungicide levels with controlled laboratory experiments. 

While laboratory investigations of the impact of pesticides on wildlife frequently use higher concentrations of pesticides than those used in real-world settings to elicit stronger reactions, this study measured the real contamination of fungicides in birds living in vineyards and other ecosystems such as crop fields, forests, or cities.

What the researchers learned 

By accurately replicating the fungicide concentrations measured in vineyards in laboratory conditions, the researchers shed new light on how wild birds are genuinely affected by pesticides in realistic settings. 

The analysis revealed that, by disrupting their metabolism and hormon levels, exposure to triazole fungicides can have major impacts on wild birds’ reproduction and survival and thus potentially lead to a loss of biodiversity and ecological services (such as birds eating other pests).

These findings highlight the urgent need to consider the detrimental effects of triazole fungicides on bird populations living in vineyards and to develop more sustainable agricultural practices to mitigate these risks and safeguard biodiversity.

More about fungicides 

Fungicides are a type of pesticide used to control fungal diseases by inhibiting or killing the fungus causing the disease. They are widely used in agriculture to control fungal diseases in crops, which can cause significant yield loss and affect the quality of produce. In some cases, these substances are also used to control fungal diseases in humans and animals.

Two main types 

Contact fungicides

These fungicides are not absorbed by the plant tissue and only protect the plant where the spray is deposited. They are typically used to control surface fungi.

Systemic fungicides

These are absorbed and redistributed through the plant tissues, providing more comprehensive protection. Systemic fungicides are typically used for diseases that affect areas of the plant that are difficult to reach with contact fungicides, such as the roots or the inside of the plant.

Fungicides work in various ways, with most targeting specific biological processes in the fungi that they inhibit or kill. For example, some of these substances disrupt the process of cell division in fungi, while others inhibit the production of essential fungal proteins.

While fungicides can be very effective, their use must be managed carefully to avoid the development of resistance, which can occur when a fungus evolves to be less sensitive to a particular fungicide. This is often managed by rotating between fungicides with different modes of action.

While fungicides are generally safe when used properly, some can be harmful to humans or the environment. For this reason, it’s important to use them responsibly and follow all safety instructions. There is an ongoing effort in research and development to create more environmentally friendly fungicides.


By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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