Understanding of the impact of chemicals on amphibians: a meta-analytic review


  • This research was partially funded by project (CGL2004-01872/BOS and CGL2009-12767-C02-02) from Dirección General de Investigación Científica y Técnica (MICINN), conceded to Miguel Tejedo. Andrés Egea-Serrano was supported by a Caja de Ahorros del Mediterráneo predoctoral fellowship. Rick Relyea has been supported by the National Science Foundation.

Andrés Egea-Serrano, Facultad de Biología, Departamento de Zoología y Antropología Física, Universidad de Murcia, 30100 Murcia, Spain. Tel: +34 868 88 4961; Fax: +34 868 88 3963; E-mail: aegea@um.es


Many studies have assessed the impact of different pollutants on amphibians across a variety of experimental venues (laboratory, mesocosm, and enclosure conditions). Past reviews, using vote-counting methods, have described pollution as one of the major threats faced by amphibians. However, vote-counting methods lack strong statistical power, do not permit one to determine the magnitudes of effects, and do not compare responses among predefined groups. To address these challenges, we conducted a meta-analysis of experimental studies that measured the effects of different chemical pollutants (nitrogenous and phosphorous compounds, pesticides, road deicers, heavy metals, and other wastewater contaminants) at environmentally relevant concentrations on amphibian survival, mass, time to hatching, time to metamorphosis, and frequency of abnormalities. The overall effect size of pollutant exposure was a medium decrease in amphibian survival and mass and a large increase in abnormality frequency. This translates to a 14.3% decrease in survival, a 7.5% decrease in mass, and a 535% increase in abnormality frequency across all studies. In contrast, we found no overall effect of pollutants on time to hatching and time to metamorphosis. We also found that effect sizes differed among experimental venues and among types of pollutants, but we only detected weak differences among amphibian families. These results suggest that variation in sensitivity to contaminants is generally independent of phylogeny. Some publication bias (i.e., selective reporting) was detected, but only for mass and the interaction effect size among stressors. We conclude that the overall impact of pollution on amphibians is moderately to largely negative. This implies that pollutants at environmentally relevant concentrations pose an important threat to amphibians and may play a role in their present global decline.