Spatial variability of trace element concentrations in New Zealand

Dean of Postgraduate Research
Vice-Chancellor’s Office
Extension: 7285
Summer Research Scholarship Scheme
Project Application Form
Please complete and submit the application form as a WORD document and send to
The Project
Title of Project (max 30 words):
Spatial variability of trace element concentrations in New Zealand Petrel Feathers
Project Leader(s):
Sally Gaw
Phil Lyver (Landcare Research)
Host Department/Organization:
Department of Chemistry
Other persons involved in this topic/activity:
(List other significant members involved along with their affiliation to the research project.)
Affiliation to project
Chris Jones
Landcare Research
Rob Stainthorpe
University of Canterbury
Brief outline of project
Describe the proposed research project – maximum of 400 words (box will expand as you type).
Note that this information will be published on the web in order to attract student applicants and therefore be
mindful of any Intellectual Property issues
Seabirds are higher trophic level organisms and can be used to monitor trace element accumulation in
marine ecosystems. In New Zealand, seabirds have cultural significance for Māori and in some regions the
chicks are consumed. Anthropogenic sources of trace elements entering the New Zealand marine
environment include wastewater discharges and urban runoff. Weathering of minerals and geothermal
activity are also significant sources of trace elements for marine ecosystems. Arsenic, cadmium, lead and
mercury are potentially toxic trace elements that can accumulate in marine food chains posing risks to higher
trophic level organisms including seabirds as well as human health if higher trophic level organisms are
consumed. Trace elements such as iron, copper and zinc are essential elements required for biological
processes that can become toxic at elevated concentrations. Reported adverse effects of elevated
concentrations of trace elements on birds include altered reproductive success, changes to immune function
and impaired biochemical processes. Feathers have been shown to be a suitable non-invasive sampling
method for determining trace element concentrations in seabirds. Feathers can be collected from live birds
without causing harm and provide a proxy measure of the body burden of trace elements at the time of
feather formation. Grey faced petrel (Pterodroma gouldi), feathers have been collected from six regions of
New Zealand as part of a long-term population study. These archived feathers will be used to determine the
spatial variability of trace elements in New Zealand North Island colonies of grey faced petrels. The samples
will be analysed by Inductively Coupled Mass Spectrometry for a suite of trace elements including arsenic,
cadmium, copper, iron, lead, mercury, nickel and zinc. This study will be the first to provide a spatial
assessment of essential and potentially toxic trace element concentrations in North Island grey faced petrels.
If the project involves work away from the University campus (e.g., at fieldwork sites) please detail all locations.
Some of the statistical analyses may be undertaken at Landcare Research at Lincoln
If the student be required to work outside of normal university hours (8am-5pm) please provide details
Not applicable
Benefits student will gain from involvement in the project
Describe the research experience and skills that the student will acquire through involvement in this research project –
maximum of 100 words.
This project will introduce the student to environmental chemistry research and in particular analysis of trace
elements. Participation in this project will provide a valuable opportunity for the student to develop skills in
analytical chemistry that will enhance their post-graduate research. The student will gain experience in study
design, method validation, and ICP-MS analysis. The project will provide the student with an understanding
of the level of quality assurance and quality control needed to ensure the robustness of analytical results.
Specific student requirements
Please provide details of all requirements you have for the student to work on this project – for example, if specific
courses/experience are necessary.
The successful student will need to have sufficient background in analytical and environmental chemistry.