Acute oral toxicity and tissue residues of saxitoxin in the mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

Harmful Algae
By: , and 



Since 2014, widespread, annual mortality events involving multiple species of seabirds have occurred in the Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea, and Chukchi Sea. Among these die-offs, emaciation was a common finding with starvation often identified as the cause of death. However, saxitoxin (STX) was detected in many carcasses, indicating exposure of these seabirds to STX in the marine environment. Few data are available that describe the effects of STX in birds, thus presenting challenges for determining its contributions to specific mortality events. To address these knowledge gaps, we conducted an acute oral toxicity trial in mallards (Anas platyrhynchos), a common laboratory avian model, using an up-and-down method to estimate the median lethal dose (LD50) for STX. Using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), we tested select tissues from all birds and feces from those individuals that survived initial dosing. Samples with an ELISA result that exceeded approximately 10 µg 100 g−1 STX and randomly selected ELISA negative samples were further tested by high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). Tissues collected from mallards were also examined grossly at necropsy and then later by microscopy to identify lesions attributable to STX. The estimated LD50 was 167 µg kg−1 (95% CI = 69–275 µg kg−1). Saxitoxin was detected in fecal samples of all mallards tested for up to 48 h after dosing and at the end of the sampling period (7 d) in three birds. In those individuals that died or were euthanized <2 h after dosing, STX was readily detected throughout the gastrointestinal tract but only infrequently in heart, kidney, liver, lung, and breast muscle. No gross or microscopic lesions were observed that could be attributable to STX exposure. Given its acute toxicity, limited detectability, and frequent occurrence in the Alaska marine environment, additional research on STX in seabirds is warranted.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Acute oral toxicity and tissue residues of saxitoxin in the mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)
Series title Harmful Algae
DOI 10.1016/j.hal.2021.102109
Volume 109
Year Published 2020
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) National Wildlife Health Center
Description 102109, 7 p.
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