, Volume 25, Issue 4, pp 438-445

Muskrat populations in Virginia's Elizabeth River: Physiological condition and accumulation of environmental contaminants

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This study evaluated the physiological condition and environmental contaminant concentrations in muskrats inhabiting the contaminated lower region of the Elizabeth River, Virginia, (USA). Muskrats trapped in the lower region of the Elizabeth River weighed less, had lower mean fat indexes, lower relative spleen weights, greater relative adrenal weights, and an increased incidence of disease and parasitism compared to muskrats trapped in the less contaminated upper region of the Elizabeth River or Nansemond River. Concentrations of the metals aluminum, cadmium, copper, nickel, and zinc and the number of polyaromatic hydrocarbon compounds were greater in lower Elizabeth River muskrats compared to upper region Elizabeth River or Nansemond River muskrats. These physiological data indicated that muskrats in the lower region of the Elizabeth River were in poor health relative to muskrats from the other regions studied. However, no significant difference in fecundity or density was observed among regions studied, suggesting that the level of environmental contaminant exposure was not sufficient to elicit a population level response. Greater population declines following severe natural environmental stresses (large storms, extreme cold, etc.) would be anticipated in lower region Elizabeth River muskrats; however, the muskrat population in this region does not now appear to be at risk of extirpation.