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Arch Environ Contam Toxicol. 2001 May;40(4):551-6.

Comparison of heavy metal concentrations in tissues of red foxes from adjacent urban, suburban, and rural areas.

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  • 1Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology, University of Zürich-Tierspital, Switzerland.


The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is a representative of the canid family with wide distribution in the Northern Hemisphere and Australia. The increasing utilization of urbanized habitats by red foxes prompted us to test whether this species may be used to monitor the presence of anthropogenic pollutants in cities or suburbs. For that purpose, we compared the concentrations of heavy metals (Cd, Pb, Cu, Zn) in foxes from urban, suburban, and rural areas within the municipality of Zürich (Switzerland). The kidney and liver of suburban and rural foxes contained the highest Cd concentrations, whereas urban foxes contained the highest Pb levels. In the kidney of suburban foxes, Cd concentrations increased from a median value of 0.73 mg/kg in juvenile animals to 1.82 mg/kg in adults. Similarly, the liver of suburban foxes contained increasing Cd levels from a median of 0.21 mg/kg in juvenile animals to 0.94 mg/kg in adults. An age-dependent storage of Cd was also found in foxes from the rural surroundings, but no such accumulation occurred in urban foxes from the city center, where even adult animals contained very low Cd levels. Conversely, foxes from the urban center were characterized by elevated Pb concentrations during the first 2 years of life, but this transient Pb accumulation was absent in suburban or rural animals. The liver of juvenile foxes contained a median Pb concentration of 0.99 mg/kg in the city compared to only 0.47 and 0.37 mg/kg in the suburban and rural area, respectively. Thus, we found that animals from separate environmental compartments contain different patterns of tissue residues, implying that red foxes may serve as a bioindicator species to detect certain toxic hazards in urbanized habitats.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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