U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service


Date of this Version



Environmental Management (2014) 53:416–428 DOI 10.1007/s00267-013-0194-6


This article is a U.S. government work, and is not subject to copyright in the United States.


Field studies of pesticide effects on birds often utilize indicator species with the purpose of extrapolating to other avian taxa. Little guidance exists for choosing indicator species to monitor the presence and/or effects of contaminants that are labile in the environment or body, but are acutely toxic, such as anticholinesterase (anti-ChE) insecticides. Use of an indicator species that does not represent maximum exposure and/or effects could lead to inaccurate risk estimates. Our objective was to test the relevance of a priori selection of indicator species for a study on pesticide exposure to birds inhabiting fruit orchards. We used total plasma ChE activity and ChE reactivation to describe the variability in anti-ChE pesticide exposure among avian species in two conventionally managed fruit orchards. Of seven species included in statistical analyses, the less common species, chipping sparrow (Spizella passerina), showed the greatest percentage of exposed individuals and the greatest ChE depression, whereas the two most common species, American robins (Turdus migratorius) and gray catbirds (Dumatella carolinensis), did not show significant exposure. Due to their lower abundance, chipping sparrows would have been an unlikely choice for study. Our results show that selection of indicator species using traditionally accepted criteria such as abundance and ease of collection may not identify species that are at greatest risk. Our efforts also demonstrate the usefulness of conducting multiple-species pilot studies prior to initiating detailed studies on pesticide effects. A study such as ours can help focus research and resources on study species that are most appropriate.