Bioaccumulation and maternal transfer of mercury and selenium in amphibians

Christine M. Bergeron, Catherine M. Bodinof, Jason M. Unrine, William A. Hopkins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


Amphibian population declines have been documented worldwide and environmental contaminants are believed to contribute to some declines. Maternal transfer of bioaccumulated contaminants to offspring may be an important and overlooked mechanism of impaired reproductive success that affects amphibian populations. Mercury (Hg) is of particular concern due to its ubiquity in the environment, known toxicity to other wildlife, and complex relationships with other elements, such as selenium (Se). The objectives of the present study were to describe the relationships between total Hg (THg), methlymercury (MMHg), and Se in three amphibian species (Plethodon cinereus, Eurycea bislineata cirrigera, and Bufo americanus) along a Hg-polluted river and floodplain, and to determine if B. americanus maternally transfers Hg and Se to its eggs in a tissue residue-dependent manner. Total Hg and MMHg concentrations in all species spanned two orders of magnitude between the reference and contaminated areas, while Se concentrations were generally low in all species at both sites. Strong positive relationships between THg and MMHg in tissues of all species were observed throughout. Both Hg and Se were maternally transferred from females to eggs in B. americanus, but the percentage of the females' Hg body burden transferred to eggs was low compared with Se. In addition, Hg concentrations appeared to positively influence the amount of Se transferred from female to eggs. The present study is the first to confirm a correlation between Hg concentrations in female carcass and eggs in amphibians and among the first to describe co-transference of Se and Hg in an anamniotic vertebrate. The results suggest future work is needed to determine whether maternal transfer of Hg has transgenerational implications for amphibian progeny.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)989-997
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Toxicology and Chemistry
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2010


  • Amphibians
  • Maternal transfer
  • Mercury
  • Methylmercury
  • Selenium

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


Dive into the research topics of 'Bioaccumulation and maternal transfer of mercury and selenium in amphibians'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this