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The impact of trace metal contaminants on environmental and animal health: a multi-disciplinary approach

This project will explore the mobilisation and bioaccumulation of heavy metal contaminants from historic mine waste from old mine sites in Wales, and their impact on wildlife health. This is a unique, interdisciplinary project involving environmental geochemistry, ecology, plant science and animal health, involving colleagues at the University of Nottingham, the Natural History Museum, and Natural Resources Wales, to explore research questions which will have important and practical implications for wildlife health and conservation.

Toxic metals in samples of river water, river sediment, terrestrial soil, freshwater and terrestrial invertebrates will be quantified using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS). Small mammals, passerine birds and raptors will be assessed using ICP-MS and several biomarkers in blood and tissue/feathers, to explore the relationship between trace metal concentrations and health. Blood samples will also be analysed for erythrocyte enzyme delta-aminolevulinic acid dehydratase (ALAD), free oxygen radical scavengers, and innate and adaptive humoral immunity will be assessed in plasma using species non-specific immune assays.

Ultimately, the results will provide a better understanding of impacts of historic mine waste on animal health in affected areas and enable a greater understanding of the biodiversity and conservation impacts of mine waste, with implications for best practice management.

This project provides opportunities for varied fieldwork and laboratory skills. This will include: fieldwork in Wales to collect environmental and animal samples in the region of historic lead mines, specialist training in wild animal handling and sampling methods, specialist laboratory training and data interpretation at University of Nottingham, and training in ecological methods, field work, a training placement at Natural Resources Wales, and translation of results to inform policy both at the University of Nottingham and Natural Resources Wales.

Applicants should hold a minimum of a UK Honours Degree at 2:1 level or equivalent in subjects such as Environmental Toxicology, Natural Sciences or Veterinary Sciences; a background in animal health and experience obtaining biological samples from animals is preferred.

For further information, contact Dr. Lisa Yon (University of Nottingham, School of Veterinary Medicine & Science), Dr. Matthew Johnson (University of Nottingham, School of Geography), or Dr. Scott Young (University of Nottingham, School of Biosciences)