Poison in the nursery: Mercury contamination in the tadpole-rearing sites of an Amazonian frog

Lia Schlippe-Justicia*, Jérémy Lemaire, Carolin Dittrich, Martin Mayer, Paco Bustamante, Bibiana Rojas*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) has become a major threat for Neotropical forests. This technique for obtaining gold is a substantial driver of small-scale deforestation and the largest contributor of Hg emissions to both the atmosphere and freshwater systems globally. Previous studies have demonstrated the impacts of Hg accumulation on various aquatic ecosystems and organisms. However, its consequences in other, more discrete systems such as phytotelmata (water-holding plant structures), and the organisms therein, have so far gone unnoticed. Here, we show high concentrations of Hg (mean ± SD: 1.43 ± 2.19 ppm) in phytotelmata and other small pools, the aquatic microenvironments used by the Neotropical poison frog Dendrobates tinctorius as tadpole-rearing sites. In 17 % of the cases, we detected Hg concentrations above the severe effect level (SEL = 2 ppm) for freshwater sediments. Hg concentrations varied depending on pool characteristics and tended to increase in proximity to known ASGM sites. We did not find an effect of Hg concentration on the number of D. tinctorius tadpoles in a given pool. Tadpoles were found in pools with concentrations of up to 8.68 ppm, suggesting that D. tinctorius fathers do not avoid pools with high Hg levels for tadpole deposition. While further research is needed to determine the potential effects of Hg on tadpole development, we found an intriguing tendency for tadpoles in later developmental stages to have lower body condition when occurring in pools with higher Hg concentrations. Our findings provide evidence of relevant Hg concentrations in the terrestrial water systems used by phytotelm-breeding anurans, and highlight the need of further field and experimental studies investigating the implications of Hg contamination for tadpole development and behaviour and the overall conservation of Amazonian biodiversity.

Original languageEnglish
Article number169450
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2024


  • Contaminants
  • French Guiana
  • Parental care
  • Phytotelmata
  • Poison frog


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