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Environ Sci Technol. 2013 Mar 19;47(6):2846-53. doi: 10.1021/es303989u. Epub 2013 Feb 27.

Maternal transfer of contaminants and reduced reproductive success of southern toads ( Bufo [Anaxyrus] terrestris ) exposed to coal combustion waste.

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Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, University of Georgia, Drawer E, Aiken, South Carolina 29802, USA.


Bioaccumulation of contaminants and subsequent maternal transfer to offspring are important factors that affect the reproductive success of wildlife. However, maternal transfer of contaminants has rarely been investigated in amphibians. We examined maternal transfer of trace elements in southern toads ( Bufo[Anaxyrus] terrestris) residing in two locations: (1) an active coal combustion waste (CCW) disposal basin and adjacent 40-ha floodplain contaminated with CCW over 35 years ago and (2) an uncontaminated reference site. Our study is among the few to document tissue concentration-dependent maternal transfer of contaminants and associated adverse effects in amphibians. We found that females collected from the CCW-contaminated area had elevated concentrations of Ni, Se, and Sr; these females also transferred elevated levels of Cu, Pb, Se, and Sr to their eggs compared to females from the reference site. Overall reproductive success, estimated as a function of clutch size and offspring viability, was reduced by 27% in clutches collected from parents from the contaminated site compared to the reference site. Offspring viability negatively correlated with female and/or egg concentrations of Se and Ni. Reproductive success negatively correlated with Se and Cu concentrations in females, and Se concentrations in eggs. Our study highlights how exposure to CCW can negatively affect amphibian reproduction.

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