Supervisors: Heli Routti, Norwegian Polar Institute (Tromsø) and Sophie Bourgeon (UiT, Department of Arctic marine Biology, Tromsø)

Project background:
Chronic exposure to environmental pollutants in arctic wildlife has been associated to adverse health effects such as endocrine disruption and immune suppression directly affecting the ability of animals to cope with infections and diseases. Concentrations of molecules circulating in plasma, such as hormones, lipids, lipoproteins, enzymes and proteins related to immune and stress-responses are tools for general health evaluation in relation to high-level effects. Finally, mRNA expression of genes encoding proteins that play an important role in animal health is a sensitive tool to detect pollutant effects at the molecular level.
Walruses (Odobenus rosmarus), ice-associated marine mammals, show high individual variation in their diet. While some individuals feed on high trophic level prey such as seals, and to a lesser extent seabirds, others mainly feed on benthos. These inter-individual diet preferences further influence the contaminant exposure of walruses with individuals feeding at the highest trophic levels showing plasma concentration of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and chlordanes similar to those observed in polar bears. However, there is a lack of studies investigating the effects of pollutants in walruses.

The projects will examine the contaminant and pathogen exposure and related health effects in walruses feeding at different trophic levels.
-Field samples and diet information:
Samples from adult male walruses (n=40) have been collected in July 2014 and 2015 by the Norwegian Polar Institute in Svalbard. Stable isotopes and fatty acids will be used as proxies to describe the diet of the walruses.
-Analyses of pollutants:
A wide range of pollutants will be analysed in both the blubber and plasma of individuals (at NILU, Tromsø).
-Analyses of health parameters:
We will analyze a wide range of parameters (at UiT, Tromsø and NIPH, Oslo).
-Tasks of the students:
The students are expected to participate in the lab analysis of pollutants, plasma biomarkers as well as gene expression (performed in Oslo).

The students are invited to start as soon as possible.

Interested students should email their interest to [email protected] and [email protected] They should explain their motivation and describe the relevance of their background to the current project (please join a CV).

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