Date: 17 Jan 2006

Individual and Joint Actions of Selenate and Methylmercury on the Development and Survival of Insect Detritivore Megaselia scalaris (Diptera: Phoridae)

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Despite the important roles played by insects in most ecosystems, surprisingly little is known about how anthropogenic pollutants or their mixtures interact to affect insect populations. The independent and joint actions of selenate and methylmercury on a ubiquitous insect detritivore, Megaselia scalaris (Loew), were determined in this study. Ovipositing females did not distinguish between untreated food sources and those contaminated with toxic concentrations of selenate, methylmercury, or both chemicals in combination. Even at the highest concentrations of pollutants, no negative effects were observed for the egg stage. However, larval survival was significantly decreased and development significantly prolonged by selenate and methylmercury individually at low or intermediate ecologically relevant treatment levels. Potentiation was strongly evident because mixtures containing concentrations as little as only 1% of the respective individual median lethal tolerances (LC50s) caused significantly more mortality and delayed larval development than would be expected from the responses selenate and methylmercury elicit individually. However, survival and pupal development was not affected at any rate tested. Female fecundity was significantly decreased by methylmercury but not by selenate or mixture treatments. The relative toxicity to M. scalaris of each of the individual and joint treatments was selenate (LC50 = 260 μg/g) < methylmercury (LC50 = 22 μg/g) < the mixture at approximately 5% of the LC50 concentration of each of the components (12 μg/g selenate plus 1.0 μg/g methylmercury). The increased mortality and delayed larval development within sites contaminated by selenate, methylmercury, or combination of the two have substantial implications for the ecology, population dynamics, and sustainability of M. scalaris populations. If these results can be extrapolated to other arthropod detritivores, ecosystem food-web function may be substantially affected.