Metals in riparian wildlife of the lead mining district of southeastern Missouri

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Abstract

Five species of riparian vertebrates (425 individuals) primarily representing upper trophic levels were collected from the Big River and Black River drainages in two lead mining districts of southeastern Missouri, 1981–82. Big River is subject to metal pollution via erosion and seepage from large tailings piles from inactive lead mines. Black River drains part of a currently mined area. Bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana), muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus), and green-backed herons (Butorides striatus) collected downstream from the source of metal contamination to Big River had significantly (ANOVA, P<0.05) higher lead and cadmium levels than specimens collected at either an uncontaminated upstream site or on Black River. Northern water snakes (Nerodia sipedon) had elevated lead levels below the tailings source, but did not seem to accumulate cadmium. Levels of lead, cadmium, or zinc in northern rough-winged swallows (Stelgidopteryx serripennis) were not related to collecting locality. Carcasses of ten bank swallows (Riparia riparia) collected from a colony nesting in a tailings pile along the Big River had lead concentrations of 2.0–39 ppm wet weight. Differences between zinc concentrations in vertebrates collected from contaminated and uncontaminated sites were less apparent than differences in lead and cadmium. There was little relationship between metal concentrations in the animals studied and their trophic levels. Bullfrogs are the most promising species examined for monitoring environmental levels of lead, cadmium, and zinc. Downstream from the source of tailings, bullfrogs had markedly higher levels of these metals in most of their tissues. The species is also widely distributed in North America, easily caught, and relatively sedentary.