Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

From tails to toes: developing nonlethal tissue indicators of mercury exposure in five amphibian species

February 1, 2016

Exposure to environmental contaminants has been implicated as a factor in global amphibian decline. Mercury (Hg) is a particularly widespread contaminant that biomagnifies in amphibians and can cause a suite of deleterious effects. However, monitoring contaminant exposure in amphibian tissues may conflict with conservation goals if lethal take is required. Thus, there is a need to develop non-lethal tissue sampling techniques to quantify contaminant exposure in amphibians. Some minimally invasive sampling techniques, such as toe-clipping, are common in population-genetic research, but it is unclear if these methods can adequately characterize contaminant exposure. We examined the relationships between mercury (Hg) concentrations in non-lethally sampled tissues and paired whole-bodies in five amphibian species. Specifically, we examined the utility of three different tail-clip sections from four salamander species and toe-clips from one anuran species. Both tail and toe-clips accurately predicted whole-body THg concentrations, but the relationships differed among species and the specific tail-clip section or toe that was used. Tail-clips comprised of the distal 0–2 cm segment performed the best across all salamander species, explaining between 82 and 92 % of the variation in paired whole-body THg concentrations. Toe-clips were less effective predictors of frog THg concentrations, but THg concentrations in outer rear toes accounted for up to 79 % of the variability in frog whole-body THg concentrations. These findings suggest non-lethal sampling of tails and toes has potential applications for monitoring contaminant exposure and risk in amphibians, but care must be taken to ensure consistent collection and interpretation of samples.

Publication Year 2016
Title From tails to toes: developing nonlethal tissue indicators of mercury exposure in five amphibian species
DOI 10.1007/s10646-016-1616-z
Authors Adam Z. Pfleeger, Collin A. Eagles-Smith, Brandon M. Kowalski, Garth Herring, James J. Willacker, Allyson K. Jackson, John Pierce
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecotoxicology
Index ID 70164327
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center; Contaminant Biology Program