In May 1984, 332 mammals of 10 species were collected at Kesterson Reservoir (San Joaquin Valley, Merced Co., CA), which had received selenium-laden irrigation drainwater, and at the nearby Volta Wildlife Area, which had not. The study concentrated on the California vole (Microtus californicus); 88 were taken at Kesterson, 89 at Volta. Mean selenium concentrations in livers were as much as 522 times higher at Kesterson. There were species-to-species differences at Kesterson; higher selenium concentrations occurred in carnivorous species and/or species that feed on foods closely linked to pond water. There were also pond-to-pond differences at Kesterson; drainwater historically was delivered to Ponds 1 and 2, where concentrations in 1984 were higher, with subsequent flow to other ponds, where they were lower. Whereas none of 50 adult female voles from Kesterson was pregnant, 12 of 41 (29%) from Volta were pregnant. However, this cessation of reproductive activity at Kesterson was probably not due to selenium toxicity but could have resulted because drying conditions at Kesterson forced voles to a seed diet earlier than at Volta. One malformation was found among five embryonic litters of three species from Kesterson. Mammals seem much less susceptible to selenium-induced embryonic abnormalities than birds. No adverse impacts of selenium on wild mammals were demonstrated; however, some sensitive species might have been extirpated from Kesterson before this study began. In addition, high concentrations in small mammal species at Kesterson may threaten predatory birds and mammals that feed on them, with the endangered San Joaquin kit fox (Vulpes macrotis mutica) of particular concern.
Additional publication details
Selenium accumulation in mammals exposed to contaminated California irrigation drainwater