Counterbalancing effects of maternal mercury exposure during different stages of early ontogeny in American toads

Christine M. Bergeron, William A. Hopkins, Catherine M. Bodinof, Sarah A. Budischak, Haruka Wada, Jason M. Unrine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Maternal transfer of environmental contaminants is a disadvantageous parental effect which can have long-lasting implications for offspring fitness. We investigated the effects of mercury (Hg) on the reproductive success of female amphibians and the subsequent effects of maternal transfer on the development of their offspring. American toads (Bufo americanus) maternally transferred Hg to their eggs, and there was a negative relationship between Hg concentrations and the percentage of viable hatchlings produced in clutches. However, when we continued to monitor larvae that successfully hatched, we found 21% greater metamorphic success in larvae from Hg-exposed mothers compared to reference larvae. The negative effect in the embryonic stage and positive effect in the larval stage counterbalanced one another, ultimately resulting in no difference in predicted terrestrial recruitment, regardless of maternal Hg exposure. Our findings demonstrate that maternal effects on survival manifesting at different stages in ontogeny have the potential to produce complicated outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4746-4752
Number of pages7
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Issue number22
StatePublished - Oct 15 2011

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the landowners along the South River and the Waynesboro Parks and Recreation Department for access to sampling locations, and D. Cristol, J. Schmerfeld, H. Brant, J. Burke, J. Callihan, S. DuRant, and S. Orlofske for their support and field and/or laboratory assistance. We thank B. Todd, C. Rowe, and J. Willson for reviewing earlier drafts of this manuscript. Collection of animals was in conformance with appropriate permits, and sample methods were in compliance with Virginia Tech animal care and use protocols. Research was completed with oversight from the South River Science Team which is a collaboration of state and federal agencies, academic institutions, and environmental interests. Financial support to WAH was provided by E.I. DuPont de Nemours , startup funds from Virginia Tech , and by the National Science Foundation (NSF # IOB-0615361 ). During the preparation of this manuscript, CMB was supported by the U.S. EPA STAR Graduate Fellowship ( FP-9170040-1 ). The information presented here has not been subjected to review by the supporting agencies and no official endorsement should be inferred.


  • Amphibian
  • Maternal effects
  • Maternal transfer
  • Mercury

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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