Multiple stressors and complex life cycles: Insights from a population-level assessment of breeding site contamination and terrestrial habitat loss in an amphibian

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Abstract

Understanding the effects of chemical contaminants on natural populations is challenging, as multiple anthropogenic and natural stressors may individually and interactively influence responses. Population models can be used to evaluate the impacts of multiple stressors and to provide insight into population-level effects and/or data gaps. For amphibians with complex life cycles, population models may be useful in understanding impacts of stressors that are unique to the habitat type (aquatic, terrestrial) and that operate at different times in the life cycle. We investigated the population-level effects of aquatic contaminants (coal combustion residues, CCR) and terrestrial habitat loss on the eastern narrowmouth toad, Gastrophryne carolinensis, using existing empirical data that demonstrated negative reproductive and developmental effects of CCR and a series of population models that incorporated density dependence and environmental stochasticity. Results of deterministic models indicated that when terrestrial habitat was abundant, CCR-exposed toads had a larger population size compared to the reference population as a result of reduced density-dependent effects on larval survival. However, when stochasticity in the form of catastrophic reproductive failure was included, CCR-exposed toads were more susceptible to decline and extinction compared to toads from the reference populations. The results highlight the complexities involved in assessing the effects of anthropogenic factors on natural populations, especially for species that are exposed to multiple biotic and abiotic stressors during different periods in the life cycle. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 2011;30:2874–2882. © 2011 SETAC

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