The mortality among common eiders has been very high during the last years due to the lack of thiamine. This is shown from studies at the Department of Environmental Sciences and Analytical Chemistry (ACES). Photo: Lennart Balk

At the end of September, the Norwegian public service channel NRK reported that the population of common eider in Norway has decreased by 30 percent over a ten-year period. ACES research about the connection between thiamine deficiency and mass death of seabirds is presented as a possible cause of the decline in stocks.

“Scientists in Sweden have linked the mass death of seabirds to a special vitamin.” This is how the article starts in the Norwegian public service channel NRK in the end of September. Among other aspects the article draws attention to ACES research that the lack of thiamine in wild animals can lead to reproductive disorders, declining populations, impaired health and behavioural changes.

“This is an important signal. In Norway, people have noticed for a long time that blue mussels and bird populations are decreasing along the coast. That the Norwegians now draw attention to the phenomenon and seem to want to find out the mechanisms behind, shows that they take it seriously”, says Lennart Balk, Professor at ACES, who has been doing research about thiamine deficiency in wild animals for many years.

As far as he knows, it is the first time that the team’s research about thiamine deficiency gets this kind of media attention in Norway. The nature conservation advisor Martin Eggen from the Norwegian Ornithological Society is one of the interviewed in the article and he says that seabirds are a good indicator of how the ecosystem works.

Thiamine is important in the basic cellular metabolism, the nerve system, and the brain. Thiamine deficiency results in both neurological problems and brain damage, among other things. Could there be insufficient amounts of thiamine in the food of the animals? Too little thiamine in blue mussels that the common eider eat? That is an aspect that the research group at ACES has investigated and it is also brought up by NRK.

“This is a track we should follow in Norway”, says Martin Eggen in the article.

Lennart Balk at ACES thinks it is positive that the research is highlighted in a neighboring country and that the Norwegians see the obvious risk that there is a corresponding disruption there too.”

“Hopefully, it may lead countries to realize that the necessary resources need to be added to understand the mechanisms and the responsible substances for this very serious chemical disorder in our environment. It is a necessary knowledge in order to prevent this impact in the future”, says Lennart Balk.

The article ”Mystisk mangel på viktig vitamin kan forklare hvorfor sjøfuglbestandene stuper” is published in the Norwegian public service channel NRK.


Lennart Balk
Exposure & Effects

Phone +46 8 674 7721