The Role of Japanese Quail in Ecotoxicology

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The Challenge: Wild birds are exposed throughout their lives to natural and synthetic chemicals that are present in the environment, many of which interfere with the animal’s physiological and developmental systems. Relative concentrations, routes, frequency, and the environment in which chemical exposure occurs will determine to a large extent the bird’s response. Well-designed avian field studies conducted on site are expensive, both in terms of personnel and funding. In order to address specific field exposures and/or focus on variables of particular concern, pen studies can be conducted on a smaller scale. The Japanese quail (Coturnix japonica, JQ) has been used as a model for gallinaceous birds in research because it exhibits a short generation time of 53-74 days and all stages of its development can be maintained and tested in captivity under controlled laboratory pen conditions. As we move towards minimizing the numbers of animals used for research, the role of the JQ as an appropriate model for avian wildlife in ecotoxicological studies is being redefined.

The Science: A considerable number of studies have been conducted at PWRC using the JQ as an avian model. In the 1980s, LC50 dietary tests were conducted screening the response of subadult JQ to over 190 environmental chemicals. More recently, JQ have been used as an avian wildlife model for developing protocols and evaluating genomic and transgenerational effects from exposure to agricultural, pharmaceutical and industrial endocrine active chemicals. For example, JQ were selected for evaluating bioaccessibility of lead, for modeling adsorption, distribution, metabolism and elimination (ADME) of neonicotinoid insecticides, and for modeling the effects of contaminants on vitellogenin production in birds.

The Future: Research is needed to assess potential effects of new technologies (e.g. LED lighting) and of mixtures of emerging contaminants, such as pharmaceuticals or industrial chemicals, on avian productivity and development. The rapid turnaround time required to complete multiple trials with the JQ and the flexibility of being able to conduct these throughout the year, allow researchers to evaluate toxicity and response-types in an avian test system before initiating larger scaled studies with an alternative wildlife avian species, such as the American kestrel or screech owl, whose life cycles may be seasonally determined.