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Biological and anthropogenic predictors of metal concentration in the Eurasian otter, a sentinel of freshwater ecosystems

Brand, Anne-Fleur, Hynes, Juliet, Walker, Lee A., Pereira, M. Gloria, Lawlor, Alan J., Williams, Richard J., Shore, Richard F. and Chadwick, Elizabeth A. ORCID: 2020. Biological and anthropogenic predictors of metal concentration in the Eurasian otter, a sentinel of freshwater ecosystems. Environmental Pollution 266 (Part 3) , 115280. 10.1016/j.envpol.2020.115280

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Toxic metals have been linked to a range of adverse health effects in freshwater organisms. However, for higher vertebrates, there is little understanding of the large-scale drivers of exposure. We quantified toxic metal/semi-metal concentrations in a sentinel freshwater top predator, the Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra), across England and Wales, and determined how this varied with key natural and anthropogenic factors. We related liver concentrations in 278 otters that died between 2006 and 2017 to habitat biogeochemistry, proximity to point source contamination and to biological characteristics (length, sex, condition). Evidence for any positive association with putative anthropogenic sources (mining, human population, known discharges) was weak or lacking in nearly all cases, with the exception of a positive association between lead and human population density. Despite concerns that burgeoning use of nanosilver in consumer products might increase silver concentrations in waste waters, there was no increase over time. Spatial variation in soil/sediment pH, precipitation, and soil calcium oxide are indicated as significant predictors of metal concentrations in otters (higher cadmium and silver in areas with lower pH and higher rainfall, and higher chromium and lead in areas of lower calcium oxide). Liver chromium and nickel concentrations declined significantly over time (Cr 0.030 ± 1.2 to 0.015 ± 1.3 ug/g dry weight, Ni 0.0038 ± 1.2 to 0.00068 ± 1.5 ug/g, between 2006-09 and 2014-17), but other metals showed no temporal change. Biotic associations were important, with age related accumulation indicated for mercury and cadmium (as well as interactions with body condition). Our results suggest that larger-scale geochemical and hydrological processes are important in determining metal exposure in otters, and we provide an indication of risk factors that may be of relevance for freshwater vertebrates in other countries with well-developed water pollution management.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Biosciences
Additional Information: This is an open access article under the terms of the CC-BY Attribution 4.0 International license.
Publisher: Elsevier
ISSN: 0269-7491
Funders: NERC
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 23 July 2020
Date of Acceptance: 21 July 2020
Last Modified: 05 May 2023 22:47

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