Cholinesterase response in native birds exposed to fenitrothion during locust control operations in Eastern Australia

Karen Fildes*, Lee B. Astheimer, Paul Story, William A. Buttemer, Michael J. Hooper

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


Huge aggregations of flightless locust nymphs pose a serious threat to agriculture when they reach plague proportions but provide a very visible and nutritious resource for native birds. Locust outbreaks occur in spring and summer months in semiarid regions of Australia. Fenitrothion, an organophosphate pesticide, is sprayed aerially to control locust plagues. To evaluate fenitrothion exposure in birds attending locust outbreaks, we measured total plasma cholinesterase (ChE), butrylcholinesterase (BChE), and acetylcholinesterase (AChE) activities in four avian species captured pre- and postfenitrothion application and ChE reactivation in birds caught postspray only. Eleven of 21 plasma samples from four species had ChE activity below the diagnostic threshold (two standard deviations below the mean ChE activity of prespray samples). Granivorous zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) and insectivorous white-winged trillers (Lalage sueurii) had significantly lower mean plasma total ChE, BChE, and AChE activity postspray, while other insectivores, white-browed (Artamus superciliosus) and masked woodswallows (Artamus personatus), did not. Cholinesterase was reactivated in 19 of the 73 plasma samples and in one of three brain samples. We conclude that native bird species are exposed to fenitrothion during locust control operations. This exposure could have detrimental impacts, as both locust outbreaks and avian reproductive events are stimulated by heavy summer rainfall, leading to co-occurrence of locust control and avian breeding activities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2964-2970
Number of pages7
JournalEnvironmental Toxicology and Chemistry
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Birds
  • Cholinesterase inhibition
  • Fenitrothion
  • Locust control
  • Organophosphate


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