Ranking terrestrial vertebrate species for utility in biomonitoring and vulnerability to environmental contaminants

Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology
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The measurement of contaminant tissue concentrations or exposure-related effects in biota has been used extensively to monitor pollution and environmental health. Terrestrial vertebrates have historically been an important group of species in such evaluations, not only because many are excellent sentinels of environmental contamination, but also because they are valued natural resources in their own right that may be adversely affected by toxicant exposure. Selection of appropriate vertebrates for biomonitoring studies frequently relies on expert opinion, although a few rigorous schemes are in use for predicting vulnerability of birds to the adverse effects of petroleum crude oil. A Utility Index that ranks terrestrial vertebrate species as potential sentinels of contaminants in a region, and a Vulnerability Index that assesses the threat of specific groups of contaminants to these species, have been developed to assist decision makers in risk assessments of persistent organic pollutants, cholinesterase-inhibiting pesticides, petroleum crude oil, mercury, and lead shot. Twenty-five terrestrial vertebrate species commonly found in Atlantic Coast estuarine habitat were ranked for their utility as biomonitors of contamination and their vulnerability to pollutants in this region. No single species, taxa or class of vertebrates was found to be an ideal sentinel for all groups of contaminants. Although birds have overwhelmingly been used to monitor contaminants compared to other terrestrial vertebrate classes, the non-migratory nature and dietary habits of the snapping turtle and mink consistently resulted in ranking these species excellent sentinels as well. Vulnerability of Atlantic Coast populations of these species varied considerably among groups of contaminants. Usually a particular species was found to be at high risk to only one or two groups of contaminants, although a noteworthy exception is the bald eagle that is highly vulnerable to all five of the contaminant groups examined. This index could be further enhanced by generation of additional comparative toxicity data to facilitate interspecific extrapolations. The Utility and Vulnerability Indices have application to many types of habitat types in addition to estuaries, and are of value to natural resource and risk managers that routinely conduct local, regional or national environmental quality assessments.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Ranking terrestrial vertebrate species for utility in biomonitoring and vulnerability to environmental contaminants
Series title Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology
Volume 176
Year Published 2003
Language English
Contributing office(s) Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
Description 67-136
Larger Work Type Article
Larger Work Subtype Journal Article
Larger Work Title Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology
First page 67
Last page 136
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