Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology

, Volume 51, Issue 3, pp 458-466

First online:

Effects of Lead-Contaminated Sediment on Rana sphenocephala Tadpoles

  • Donald W. SparlingAffiliated withUS Geological Survey, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center Email author 
  • , Sherry KrestAffiliated withUS Fish and Wildlife Service
  • , Manuel Ortiz-SantaliestraAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, University of Salmanca

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We exposed larval southern leopard frogs (Rana sphenocephala) to lead-contaminated sediments to determine the lethal and sublethal effects of this metal. Tadpoles were laboratory-raised from early free-swimming stage through metamorphosis at lead concentrations of 45, 75, 180, 540, 2360, 3940, 5520, and 7580 mg/kg dry weight in sediment. Corresponding pore water lead concentrations were 123, 227, 589, 1833, 8121, 13,579, 19,038, and 24,427 μg/L. Tadpoles exposed to lead concentrations in sediment of 3940 mg/kg or higher died within 2 to 5 days of exposure. At lower concentrations, mortality through metamorphosis ranged from 3.5% at 45 mg/kg lead to 37% at 2360 mg/kg lead in sediment. The LC50 value for lead in sediment was 3728 mg/kg (95% CI=1315 to 72,847 mg/kg), which corresponded to 12,539 μg/L lead in pore water (95% CI= 4000 to 35,200 μg/L). Early growth and development were depressed at 2,360 mg/kg lead in sediment (8100 μg/L in pore water) but differences were not evident by the time of metamorphosis. The most obvious effect of lead was its pronounced influence on skeletal development. Whereas tadpoles at 45 mg/kg lead in sediment did not display permanent abnormalities, skeletal malformations increased in frequency and severity at all higher lead concentrations. By 2360 mg/kg, 100% of surviving metamorphs displayed severe spinal problems, reduced femur and humerus lengths, deformed digits, and other bone malformations. Lead concentrations in tissues correlated positively with sediment and pore water concentrations.