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Development of a Retrospective Regional Database for the Biomonitoring of Environmental Status and Trends Program

Barnett A. Rattner, R. Michael Erwin, Jennifer L. Pearson, Anita Walz and
Mary Ann Ottinger

USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and Department of Animal and Avian Science, University of Maryland


ABSTRACT
INTRODUCTION
OBJECTIVES
METHODS
RESULTS
FUTURE ACTIVITIES AND PRODUCTS

ABSTRACT

The Biomonitoring of Environmental Status and Trends (BEST) program of the Department of the Interior is focused to identify and understand effects of contaminant stressors on biological resources under their stewardship. Despite the desire of many to continuously monitor the environmental health of our estuaries, much can be learned by summarizing existing temporal, geographic, and phylogenetic contaminant information. To this end, retrospective contaminant exposure and effects data for amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals residing within 30 km of North-Atlantic coast estuaries are being assembled through searches of published literature (e.g., Fish and Wildlife Review; BIOSIS) and databases (e.g., US EPA Ecological Incident Information System; USGS Diagnostic and Epizootic Databases), and compilation of summary data from unpublished reports of government natural resource agencies, private conservation groups, and universities. These contaminant exposure and effect data for terrestrial vertebrates (CEE-TV) are being summarized using Borland dBASE in a 92- field format, including species, collection time and site coordinates, sample matrix, contaminant concentration, biomarker and bioindicator responses, and source of information (N>1500 records). This CEE-TV database has been imported into the ARC/INFO geographic information system (GIS), for purposes of examining geographic coverage and trends, and to identify critical data gaps. A preliminary risk assessment will be conducted to identify and characterize contaminants and other stressors potentially affecting terrestrial vertebrates that reside, migrate through or reproduce in these estuaries. Evaluations are underway, using specific measurement and assessment endpoints, to rank and prioritize estuarine ecosystems in which terrestrial vertebrates are potentially at risk for purposes of prediction and focusing future biomonitoring efforts.

INTRODUCTION

The Biomonitoring of Environmental Status and Trends (BEST) program is designed to assess and monitor the effects of environmental contaminants on biological resources, particularly those under the stewardship of the Department of the Interior. BEST examines contaminant issues at the national, regional, and local scales, and uses field monitoring techniques and information assessment tools tailored to each scale. As part of this program, the threat of contaminants and other anthropogenic stressors to terrestrial vertebrates residing in or near to Atlantic coast estuarine ecosystems is being evaluated by a retrospective analysis of environmental contaminant exposure and effects data in amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals.

OBJECTIVES

1. Summarize information on contaminant exposure and effects in terrestrial vertebrates residing in or near Atlantic coast estuarine ecosystems.

2. Evaluate the relative sensitivity and suitability of various wildlife species for regional contaminant monitoring of estuaries and ecological risk assessment.

3. Conduct a preliminary risk assessment of contaminant threats to terrestrial vertebrates at selected Atlantic coast estuaries to rank ecosystem health and identify critical data gaps.

4. Undertake focused biological sampling and evaluations to generate critically needed information on contamination and other anthropogenic threats to estuarine wildlife.

METHODS

Data Compilation

In collaboration with Fish and Wildlife Service Field Offices, National Estuary Program Offices of the U.S. Environmental Protection, and the National Parks Service, retrospective contaminant and environmental quality information are being assembled for terrestrial species, their foods and estuarine habitats in the eastern region (Gulf of Maine, Narragansett Bay, Delaware Bay, Chesapeake Bay, Atlantic Bight, and their associated drainages; NOAA Estuarine Inventory Data Atlas, 1985) of the United States. This entails review of scientific information generated since 1965 from a variety of sources including:

1. Published data obtained through computerized literature searches on “Fish and Wildlife Review” (key words: metals, pollution, pesticides, lead, and mercury) and on “BIOSIS” [key words: concept code 37015 (public health; environmental health), concept code 22506 (toxicology-environmental and industrial), and nonhuman vertebrates].

2. Unpublished biomonitoring data (research manuscripts in press and unpublished reports of state government) obtained from written requests for information.

3. Published and unpublished data on animals that presumably died of contaminant exposure that are documented in the Environmental Protection Agency “Ecological Incident Information System”. Only data in the “highly probable” or “probable” categories were included. Data from animals intentionally poisoned were excluded.

4. Necropsy information that included environmental contaminant data (pesticide or metal concentrations, cholinesterase inhibition), obtained from the National Wildlife Health Center, U.S. Geological Survey (Diagnostic and Epizootic Databases) and Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study.

Although principally focused on contaminant related-data, other anthropogenic stressors and habitat limiting factors are being summarized.

RESULTS

Contaminant Exposure and Effects-Terrestrial Vertebrates (CEE-TV) Database

A database has been created that summarizes retrospective contaminant exposure and effects information for free-ranging amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. Data records are formatted to contain information on species name, collection time and site coordinates, sample matrix, contaminant and its concentration, biomarker and bioindicator responses, and source of information, in a 96-field format using Borland dBase for windows.

Summary of Data for CEE-TV Database: Maine through Virginia

Information in the CEE-TV database can be searched, sorted, and queried.

Total number of records: 1924
Total number of species represented: 145
83% of species in database are birds
13% of species in database are mammals
4% of species in database are reptiles
Total number of matrices examined: 42
Organochlorine Contaminants
Number/percent of records with DDE: 877/1924=45.5%
Number/percent of records with PCBs: 882/1924=45.8%
Number/percent of records with Dioxins/Furans: 6/1924=0.3%
Metals
Number/percent of records with lead: 460/1924=24%
Number/percent of records with mercury: 356/1924=19%
Biomarker
Biomarker data: 170/1924=8.8%
Eggshell thinning: 91/170=53.5%
Blood characteristics: 38/170=22.4%
Acetylcholinesterase: 27/170=16.9%
Monooxygenase activity: 6/170=3.5%
Cytochrome P450 induction: 3/170=1.8%
DNA adduct concentration: 3/170=1.8%
Other 2/170=1.2%
Total number of information sources in Database: 164

Geographic Display of the CEE-TV Database

The data in CEE-TV can be imported into ARC/Info Geographic Information System for purposes of examining geographic coverage and trends.

Geographic Locations of CEE-TV Data Wading Birds with [PCBs] > 1 g/g ww

Total Number of Records for Each State

Maine: 177
New Hampshire: 29
Massachusetts: 131
Rhode Island: 31
Connecticut: 78
New York: 557
New Jersey: 211
Delaware: 94
Maryland: 340
Virginia: 276
North Carolina (in progress): 170
South Carolina (in progress): 272
Georgia (in progress): 174

Future Activities and Products

Information in the CEE-TV database will be summarized and evaluated to identify contaminant threats to terrestrial vertebrates, rank ecosystem health at selected Atlantic coast estuaries, identify data gaps, and focus biomonitoring efforts to generate critically needed information on contamination and other anthropogenic threats to estuarine wildlife.

A summary of biological characteristics, and contaminant exposure and effects data for twenty terrestrial species residing in Atlantic coast estuaries will be made publicly available via the Internet.

Peer-reviewed publication on the relative sensitivity and suitability of these species as sentinels of environmental contamination.

A searchable database on contaminant exposure and effects in terrestrial vertebrates for Atlantic coast estuaries available on disk and the Internet.

Peer-reviewed publication dealing with geographic, temporal and phylogenetic contaminant trends for Atlantic coast estuaries.

Link to USGS BEST program