Elevated Trace Element Concentrations in Southern Toads, Bufo terrestris, Exposed to Coal Combustion Waste

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A number of recent studies have linked developmental, physiological, and behavioral abnormalities in amphibians to coal combustion wastes (coal ash). Few studies, however, have determined trace element concentrations in amphibians exposed to coal ash. In the current study we compare total body concentrations of 20 trace elements in adult southern toads, Bufo terrestris, inhabiting coal ash settling basins with toads that were not exposed to the combustion wastes (reference). In addition, we document the accumulation of trace elements in toads transplanted from reference sites to field enclosures in an ash settling basin for 7 and 12 weeks. Arsenic, selenium, and vanadium levels were significantly elevated in toads captured at the ash-contaminated site in comparison to toads from the reference site. All three of these elements were also significantly elevated in toads exposed to the contaminated habitat for only 7 weeks. Our study suggests that adult anurans can bioaccumulate particularly high levels of selenium and may be useful bioindicators in agricultural and coal ash-impacted habitats.

Received: 25 August 1997/Accepted: 8 February 1998