Environmental causes and reproductive correlates of mercury contamination in European pond turtles (Emys orbicularis)

Abstract : Assessing Hg contamination in aquatic ecosystems is difficult because wetlands are part of large and complex networks, and potential sources of Hg contamination are highly diverse. To investigate environmental determinants of Hg contamination, we studied one of the largest continental French wetlands structured as a dense network of artificial ponds. Such context allows to investigate the influence of pond characteristics on Hg contamination in an area relatively disconnected from direct sources of pollution. We relied on a bioindicator organism, the European pond turtle (Emys orbicularis) to assess Hg contamination in a relatively large number of sites (N>255 turtles from 15 ponds sampled in 2016 and 2017). Non-invasive sampling in the claws of turtles show that Hg concentrations were not related to their sex or size, but we found an effect of age (1.62±0.20 in juveniles and 2.21±0.06 µg.g-1 dw in adults), suggesting that turtles do bioaccumulate Hg through their life. Turtle Hg was different between pond, and we found that pond age and pond usage (draining events linked to pond maintenance) were the main environmental determinants of Hg concentrations in turtles. Finally, and more importantly, our dataset allowed us to highlight potential negative effect of Hg concentration on the proportion of reproductive females, suggesting an influence of Hg on reproductive mechanisms in this species. This result indicates that Hg contamination, even in absence of direct and strong sources of pollution, may have a critical impact on reproduction and thus the persistence of a long-lived vertebrate.
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Frédéric Beau, Paco Bustamante, Bruno Michaud, Francois Brischoux. Environmental causes and reproductive correlates of mercury contamination in European pond turtles (Emys orbicularis). Environmental Research, Elsevier, 2018, 172, pp.338-344. ⟨10.1016/j.envres.2019.01.043⟩. ⟨hal-02056566⟩

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