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Considering water quality and mercury effects on amphibians in vernal pools: a pilot study in Acadia National Park, Maine (collaborators: A.J.K. Calhoun, S.Nelson, A. Elskus, K. Simon, UMaine)

Cyndy Loftin collecting wood frog embryos in a vernal pool.<br />

Duration

January 2008 - December 2010

Narrative

Vernal pools are a unique wetland type at tremendous risk due to habitat degradation and loss, a situation that has triggered recent legislation in Maine aimed at vernal pool conservation. Vernal pools host a diversity of biota (e.g., wood frogs [Rana sylvatica], ambystomatid salamanders [Ambystoma spp.], fairy shrimp [Eubranchipus spp.]) adapted to larval development in temporary waters, but these wetlands are endangered by a subtle threat to their function: non-point source pollution. Our study examines one such potential “invisible” risk in Acadia National Park (ANP), Maine: the role of mercury (Hg) in the broader context of vernal pool water chemistry and its effects on amphibian larval development. Our overarching goal is to understand the vernal pool chemical environment, the transport of Hg through vernal pool biota, the linkages between food web structure and Hg concentration in biota, and the potential toxicity of Hg to amphibians in vernal pools of the northeastern U.S. where atmospheric deposition of Hg is a well-documented phenomenon.
We will characterize the chemical environment (including Hg) of short-hydroperiod vernal pools in ANP, including potentially large Hg contributions from snow and seasonal snow melt. Changes in Hg concentrations in the water, leaf litter, biofilm, sediment, and developing embryos and larvae will be determined over time Developmental abnormalities in amphibian embryos and larvae and time-to-metamorphosis will be related to vernal pool chemistry. This exploratory research project will contribute to our knowledge about relationships between chemistry and biology in pool environments and will lead to refined hypotheses for future studies about potential synergistic interactions of the vernal pool chemical environment. This information could be applied to regions outside the Park to aid in conservation of pools with risks of chemical pollution due to physical setting or pool chemistry.
Project objectives are:
1) Describe the water chemistry of short-hydroperiod amphibian breeding pools.
2) Characterize relationships among vernal pool chemical and physical environments (e.g., pool substrate, forest cover type, size, hydroperiod).
3) Document the presence and bioaccumulation of Hg in vernal pool food webs.
4) Identify relationships between the vernal pool chemical environment and amphibian developmental condition.

Research Products and Activities

Peer Reviewed Publications

  • Loftin, C.S., A.J.K. Calhoun, S. Nelson, A. Elskus, and K. Simon. 2012. Mercury bioaccumulation in wood frogs developing in seasonal pools. Northeastern Naturalist 19:579-600. Download  | 

Presentations

  • Nelson, S.J., C.S. Loftin, A. Calhoun, A. Elskus, K. Simon, P. Vaux.
    Growing up in the wrong neighborhood? Mercury in vernal pool amphibians at Acadia National Park. Northeast Regional Air Quality Committee Meeting (NERAQC), Winter Harbor, ME, Sept. 24, 2008.
  • Loftin, C.S., A.J.K Calhoun, S. Nelson, A. Elskus, and K. Simon. 2010. Does mercury bioaccumulate ion amphibians developing in vernal pools? Eastern region meeting of the Geological Society of America: session entitled Mercury in the environment, Maine to Florida. 13-16 March, Baltimore, MD. Nelson presented.
  • Loftin, C.S., A.J.K. Calhoun, S.J. Nelson, A. Elskus, and K. Simon. 2011. Influences on mercury bioaccumulation in wood frogs developiong in seasonal woodland pools in Maine, USA. Presentation at the 10th International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant, 24 July, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
 

Current Staff

Federal Staff: 102

Masters Students: 247

Phd Students: 163

Post Docs: 55

University Staff: 266

5 Year Summary

Students graduated: 722

Scientific Publications: 1960

Presentations: 4355

 

Personnel

  • Cynthia LoftinCo-Principal Investigator
  • Sarah NelsonCo-Principal Investigator

Funding Agencies

  • Cooperative Research Units
  • Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife
  • University of Maine

Links

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