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Comparative effects of energy-related saline wastewaters and sodium chloride on hatching, survival, and fitness-associated traits of two amphibian species

August 18, 2021

Salinity (sodium chloride [NaCl]) is a prevalent and persistent contaminant that negatively affects freshwater ecosystems. Although most studies focus on effects of salinity from road salts (primarily NaCl), high-salinity wastewaters from energy extraction (wastewaters) could be more harmful because they contain NaCl and other toxic components. Many amphibians are sensitive to salinity, and their eggs are thought to be the most sensitive life-history stage. However, there are few investigations with salinity that include eggs and larvae sequentially in long-term exposures. We investigated the relative effects of wastewaters from a large energy reserve, the Williston Basin (USA), and NaCl on northern leopard (Rana pipiens) and boreal chorus (Pseudacris maculata) frogs. We exposed eggs and tracked responses through larval stages (for 24 days). Wastewaters and NaCl caused similar reductions in hatching and larval survival, growth, development, and activity, while also increasing deformities. Chorus frog eggs and larvae were more sensitive to salinity than leopard frogs, suggesting species-specific responses. Contrary to previous studies, eggs of both species were less sensitive to salinity than larvae. Our ecologically relevant exposures suggest that accumulating effects can reduce survival relative to starting experiments with unexposed larvae. Alternatively, egg casings of some species may provide some protection against salinity. Notably, effects of wastewaters on amphibians were predominantly due to NaCl rather than other components. Therefore, findings from studies with other sources of increased salinity (e.g., road salts) could guide management of wastewater-contaminated ecosystems, and vice versa, to mitigate effects of salinization.