Ant cuticular response to phthalate pollution
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Phthalates are common atmospheric contaminants used in the plastic industry. Ants have been shown to constitute good bioindicators of phthalate pollution. Hence, phthalates remain trapped on ant cuticles which are mostly coated with long-chain hydrocarbons. In this study, we artificially contaminated Lasius niger ants with four phthalates: dibutyl phthalate (DBP), diisobutyl phthalate (DiBP), di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), and benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP). The first three have previously been found on ants in nature in Touraine (France), while the fourth has not. The four phthalates disappeared rapidly (less than 5 days) from the cuticles of live ants. In contrast, on the cuticles of dead ants, DEHP quantities remained unchanged over time. These results indicate that phthalates are actively absorbed by the cuticles of live ants. Cuticular absorption of phthalates is nonspecific because eicosane, a nonnatural hydrocarbon on L. niger cuticle, was similarly absorbed. Ants are important ecological engineers and may serve as bioindicators of ecosystem health. We also suggest that ants and more generally terrestrial arthropods may contribute to the removal of phthalates from the local environment.
KeywordsAnts Phthalates DEHP DBP DiBP BBP Cuticle Pollutants Bioindicator Absorption
We thank Guy Bourdais, who helped with the rearing of the ants. Frédéric Montigny provided some of the phthalates and verified the absence of phthalates in polystyrene boxes. Jessica Pearce corrected the English. Thanks to a reviewer who helped to clarify and improve the text.
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