UV-pollutant combo hits tadpoles hard

From New Orleans, at the e.hormone 2003 Conference

Many of the studies documenting a global decline in amphibians have linked the shrinking populations with exposure to excessive ultraviolet (UV) sunlight or to pollutants, especially ones with a hormonal effect. Biologists now find that slightly elevated UV exposure reduces the chance that tadpoles will become frogs. That chance declines even more with coincident exposure to an estrogen-mimicking pollutant.

Maxine Croteau’s team at the University of Ottawa exposed leopard frogs to UV radiation for 8 months. Exposures started at hatching and lasted 12 hours a day at doses emulating what would occur 50 centimeters below the water surface at midday in May in northern North America. In the wild, only frogs in ditches or in small, evaporating ponds–and therefore without access to shielding plants–encounter such a constant UV exposure.

Ordinarily, between 6 and 11 percent of leopard frog tadpoles survive and metamorphose into adults, notes coauthor Vance L. Trudeau. In contrast, just 2 to 4 percent of the UV-exposed tadpoles reached adulthood, and they took at least a month longer to do so than did frogs raised in the lab but not exposed to excessive UV. The pollutant 4-t-octylphenol, an estrogenic breakdown product of popular surfactants in detergents, soaps, and other products, didn’t affect metamorphosis–except in frogs getting daylong UV. In those groups, metamorphosis rates plummeted to a mere 1 or 2 percent, even when the 4-t-octylphenol concentration was 0.2 parts per billion, an amount found in the environment.


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Janet Raloff is the Editor, Digital of Science News Explores, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer, specializing in toxicology. To her never-ending surprise, her daughter became a toxicologist.

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