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Acute toxic hazard evaluations of glyphosate herbicide on terrestrial vertebrates of the oregon coast range


Goal, Scope and Background. The degree to which dose responses of model organisms (lab rodents) can adequately predict dose responses of free-ranging wild mammals or amphibians is unknown, and the relative sensitivity of such species to body loading of a toxicant such as glyphosate is seldom reported. For relative effects of dosage, we compare sensitivity of nine wild vertebrate species to effects of high doses of glyphosate in Swiss-Webster laboratory mice both by gavage and by intraperitoneal injection. We also evaluate sublethal effects of herbicide exposure on behavior and reproductive success of one mammal and one amphibian species


Comparisons of acute toxicity of glyphosate were made with intraperitoneal dosings of technical glyphosate isopropylamine salt to nine species of terrestrial vertebrates (five amphibians, four mammals) and compared with responses in Swiss-Webster laboratory mice. Animals collected from sites that had no recent herbicide application were allowed 7–14 days to equilibrate in captivity before treatment.


Median lethal dose ranged from 800 to 1,340 mg kg-1 in mammals, and 1,170 to >2,000 mg kg−1 in amphibians, with Oregon vole being the most sensitive. White lab mice were in the middle of the mammalian range. Tailed frog, at >2,000 mg kg−1 was the least sensitive. Calibration of IP sensitivity to oral administration by gavage indicated that roughly four times as much glyphosate must be administered to obtain a comparable estimate of lethality. Administration by gavage in highly concentrated solutions tended to cause physical injury, hence may prove less useful as a relative indicator of toxicity. When sublethal dosages were given to roughskin newts or chipmunks, mobility and use of cover appeared largely unaffected.


Direct toxic effects of spraying glyphosate under normal forest management seem unlikely for the nine species examined. Nor could we detect significant indirect effects of exposure on behavior and use of cover features in two species. There may be effects on other aspects of the field biology of these animals, such as reproductive rates, which we did not investigate. Recent field data indicate that changes in habitat quality following herbicide application can result in high reproductive activity in species associated with the grasses and forbs that proliferate following field applications.


When compared to field data on body burdens of wild mammals exposed after aerial application of glyphosate at maximum rates in forests, there seems to be a large margin of safety between dosages encountered and those causing either death or limitation of movement, foraging or shelter.

Recommendations and Perspectives

Margins of safety for small mammals and amphibians appear to be large under any probable exposure scenarios, however our results indicate high variability in responses among species. Uncertainty introduced into field studies from unknown sources of mortality (e.g, likely predation) must be considered when interpreting our results.

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Correspondence to Brenda C. McComb.

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ESS-Submission Editor: Dr. Lee Young (

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McComb, B.C., Curtis, L., Chambers, C.L. et al. Acute toxic hazard evaluations of glyphosate herbicide on terrestrial vertebrates of the oregon coast range. Environ Sci Pollut Res 15, 266–272 (2008).

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  • Aerial spray
  • forestry
  • glyphosate
  • herbicides
  • operational exposures
  • Oregon coast range
  • sublethal effects
  • terrestrial vertebrates
  • toxicology
  • wildlife