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Environ Pollut. 2009 Mar;157(3):857-64. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2008.11.016. Epub 2008 Dec 24.

Evolution of tolerance to PCBs and susceptibility to a bacterial pathogen (Vibrio harveyi) in Atlantic killifish (Fundulus heteroclitus) from New Bedford (MA, USA) harbor.

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  • 1US Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Research and Development, National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, Atlantic Ecology Division, Narragansett, RI, USA.


A population of the non-migratory estuarine fish Fundulus heteroclitus (Atlantic killifish) resident to New Bedford (NB), Massachusetts, USA, an urban harbor highly contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), demonstrates recently evolved tolerance to some aspects of PCB toxicity. PCB toxicology, ecological theory, and some precedence supported expectations of increased susceptibility to pathogens in NB killifish. However, laboratory bacterial challenges of the marine pathogen Vibrio harveyi to wild fish throughout the reproductive season and to their mature laboratory-raised progeny demonstrated comparable survival by NB and reference killifish, and improved survival by NB males. These results are inconsistent with hypothesized trade-offs of adaptation, and suggest that evolved tolerance in NB killifish may include mechanisms that minimize the immunosuppressive effects of PCBs. Compensatory strategies of populations persisting in highly contaminated environments provide a unique perspective for understanding the long-term ecological effects of toxic chemicals.

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