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Lead bioaccumulation in Texas Harvester Ants (Pogonomyrmex barbatus) and toxicological implications for Texas Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma cornutum) populations of Bexar County, Texas

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Uptake of lead from soil was examined in order to establish a site-specific ecological protective concentration level for the Texas Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma cornutum) at the Former Humble Refinery in San Antonio, Texas. Soils, harvester ants, and rinse water from the ants were analyzed at 11 Texas Harvester Ant (Pogonomyrmex barbatus) mounds. Soil concentrations at the harvester ant mounds ranged from 13 to 7474 mg/kg of lead dry weight. Ant tissue sample concentrations ranged from < 0.82 to 21.17 mg/kg dry weight. Rinse water concentrations were below the reporting limit in the majority of samples. Two uptake models were developed for the ants. A bioaccumulation factor model did not fit the data, as there was a strong decay in the calculated value with rising soil concentrations. A univariate natural log-transformed regression model produced a significant regression (p < .0001) with a high coefficient of determination (0.82), indicating a good fit to the data. Other diagnostic regression statistics indicated that the regression model could be reliably used to predict concentrations of lead in harvester ants from soil concentrations. Estimates of protective levels for P. cornutum were developed using published sub-chronic toxicological findings for the Western Fence Lizard that were allometricly adapted and compared to the Doseoral equation, which estimated lead consumed through ants plus incidental soil ingestion. The no observed adverse effect level toxicological limit for P. cornutum was estimated to be 5500 mg/kg.

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We would like to acknowledge the field assistance of Groundwater and Environmental Services in Stafford and Austin, Texas. We also gratefully acknowledge the valuable participation by David Flores, Allen Rienstra, Kris Pineda, Vickie Reat (TCEQ), and Andy Gluesenkamp (TPWD).


This research was funded by ExxonMobil.

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Correspondence to Robert Burgess.

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This submission involved capture and chemical analysis of a limited number of ants to define uptake across a range of exposure. The collections were conducted consistent with procedures of international and national guideline standards of practice for collection of insects.


The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and of ExxonMobil.

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Responsible editor: Philippe Garrigues

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Burgess, R., Davis, R. & Edwards, D. Lead bioaccumulation in Texas Harvester Ants (Pogonomyrmex barbatus) and toxicological implications for Texas Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma cornutum) populations of Bexar County, Texas. Environ Sci Pollut Res 25, 8012–8026 (2018).

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  • Bioaccumulation
  • Lead
  • Toxicity
  • Phrynosoma cornutum
  • Pogonomyrmex barbatus
  • Texas Horned Lizard