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Evaluation of the use of reindeer droppings for monitoring essential and non-essential elements in the polar terrestrial environment

Pacyna, Aneta Dorota, Frankowski, Marcin, Kozioł, Krystyna, Węgrzyn, Michał Hubert, Wietrzyk-Pełka, Paulina, Lehmann-Konera, Sara, Polkowska, Żaneta
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.658 pp. 1209-1218
adults, aluminum, antimony, arsenic, birds, calcium, calves, direct contact, ecotoxicology, excretion, feces, females, fur, herbivores, lead, males, manganese, monitoring, mosses and liverworts, nickel, phosphorus, pollution, potassium, reindeer, reptiles, secretion, sedentary species, sodium, summer, terrestrial ecosystems, tundra, urine, winter, zinc, Arctic region, Norway
Excess or toxic metals, non-metals and metalloids can be eliminated from the organism by deposition in inert tissue (e.g. fur) or excretion with body secretions, urine and faeces. Droppings are one of the main routes for the elimination of multiple elements and they can be collected without direct contact with the animal. Contaminant concentration has been examined in non-lethally collected tissues of several species (especially reptilian, avian and mammalian). However, studies on species residing in polar areas are still limited, especially of mammals from the European Arctic. Reindeers are the only large herbivores living in Svalbard, being an essential part of the Arctic terrestrial ecosystem. Although reindeer presence has a high impact on their surroundings, those huge mammals are rarely part of ecotoxicological studies regarding metal pollution. In this paper, the droppings of Svalbard reindeer were used as a non-invasively collected tissue to examine the excretion pathway of 30 elements. Samples were collected in mesic and moss tundra, representing summer, winter and winter-transitional excretion. For more than a half of the studied elements, significant differences occurred between the samples collected in the two tundra types. The feasibility of older and fresh samples was assessed based on summer droppings, and significant differences were found for K, As, Mn, Na, Ni, and Sb concentrations. No relevant differences in element levels were observed for samples collected from adult females, adult males and calves, except for zinc and potassium. Results show that reindeer droppings are an important vector for the transfer of many metals, non-metals and metalloids including calcium, phosphorus, zinc, aluminium and lead. As a sedentary species, feeding on local food sources, Svalbard reindeer is a valuable indicator of trace element presence in the polar terrestrial ecosystem.