Broad-scale assessment of methylmercury in adult amphibians

Environmental Science and Technology
By: , and 



Mercury (Hg) is a toxic contaminant that has been mobilized and distributed worldwide and is a threat to many wildlife species. Amphibians are facing unprecedented global declines due to many threats including contaminants. While the biphasic life history of many amphibians creates a potential nexus for methylmercury (MeHg) exposure in aquatic habitats and subsequent health effects, the broad-scale distribution of MeHg exposure in amphibians remains unknown. We used nonlethal sampling to assess MeHg bioaccumulation in 3,241 juvenile and adult amphibians during 2017–2021. We sampled 26 populations (14 species) across 11 states in the United States, including several imperiled species that could not have been sampled by traditional lethal methods. We examined whether life history traits of species and whether the concentration of total mercury in sediment or dragonflies could be used as indicators of MeHg bioaccumulation in amphibians. Methylmercury contamination was widespread, with a 33-fold difference in concentrations across sites. Variation among years and clustered subsites was less than variation across sites. Life history characteristics such as size, sex, and whether the amphibian was a frog, toad, newt, or other salamander were the factors most strongly associated with bioaccumulation. Total Hg in dragonflies was a reliable indicator of bioaccumulation of MeHg in amphibians (R2 ≥ 0.67), whereas total Hg in sediment was not (R2 ≤ 0.04). Our study, the largest broad-scale assessment of MeHg bioaccumulation in amphibians, highlights methodological advances that allow for nonlethal sampling of rare species and reveals immense variation among species, life histories, and sites. Our findings can help identify sensitive populations and provide environmentally relevant concentrations for future studies to better quantify the potential threats of MeHg to amphibians.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Broad-scale assessment of methylmercury in adult amphibians
Series title Environmental Science and Technology
DOI 10.1021/acs.est.3c05549
Volume 57
Issue 45
Year Published 2023
Language English
Publisher American Chemical Society
Contributing office(s) Forest and Rangeland Ecosys Science Center, Fort Collins Science Center, National Wildlife Health Center, New Jersey Water Science Center, Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center, Western Ecological Research Center, Wetland and Aquatic Research Center, Eastern Ecological Science Center
Description 11 p.
First page 17511
Last page 17521
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