Tissue mercury concentrations and adrenocortical responses of female big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus) near a contaminated river

Abstract

Much of the research on mercury (Hg) in wild vertebrates has focused on piscivores and other animals at high trophic levels. However, recent studies indicated that insectivorous terrestrial vertebrates may also be at risk. In the present study, we examined blood and fur Hg concentrations as well as the adrenocortical responses of insectivorous big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus) near the Hg-contaminated South River, VA and a nearby reference area. Baseline glucocorticoids and adrenocortical responses to handling have been widely used to assess the influence of environmental stressors because plasma glucocorticoids rise in response to various physical, psychological, and physiological challenges. Female bats captured at the contaminated site had 2.6 times higher blood and fur Hg concentrations than those captured at the reference site (blood: 0.11 vs. 0.04 μg/g wet weight; fur: 28.0 vs. 10.9 μg/g fresh weight). Fur Hg concentrations at the contaminated site were higher than most wild omnivorous and carnivorous mammals reported in the literature. Although fur and blood Hg concentrations were tightly correlated, fur Hg concentrations averaged 260 times higher than concentrations in blood. This suggests that fur may be an important depuration route for bats, just as it is in other mammals. Despite the high Hg concentrations in bat tissue, we did not observe any site difference in adrenocortical responses. Our results suggest that the bats at the contaminated site were exposed to Hg concentrations below those causing adverse effects on their adrenal axis.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Calvin Jordan and Jessenta Reynes for providing their barns, the South River Science Team for technical support, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality for sponsoring the South River Science Team, Tim Divoll and Danielle Temple from BioDiversity Research Institute, Gorham, Maine for their help in the field, and Sarah Budischak and Guillaume Salze for reviewing the manuscript. We also thank Dan Cristol from the College of William and Mary, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists John Schmerfeld and Sumalee Hoskin for their support, and DuPont for funding this study. Research was completed with oversight from the South River Science Team which is a collaboration of state and federal agencies, academic institutions, and environmental interests.

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Correspondence to William A. Hopkins.

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Wada, H., Yates, D.E., Evers, D.C. et al. Tissue mercury concentrations and adrenocortical responses of female big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus) near a contaminated river. Ecotoxicology 19, 1277–1284 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10646-010-0513-0

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Keywords

  • Mercury
  • Cortisol
  • Fur:blood ratio
  • Insectivore
  • Eptesicus fuscus