Several studies suggest that global climate change could increase the toxicity of contaminants, but none of these studies explicitly integrate the effects of climate change on both susceptibility and duration of exposure to pollution. For many amphibian and aquatic insect species, exposure to contaminants is probably greatest during their fully aquatic embryonic and larval stages because these stages cannot readily escape water bodies where many contaminants accumulate and concentrate. Hence, by accelerating embryonic and larval development, global warming might reduce the duration of contaminant exposure for these taxa. To test this hypothesis, we isolated the effects of a temperature gradient (13–25 °C) on susceptibility (toxicity at a controlled exposure duration) and exposure of the streamside salamander, Ambystoma barbouri, to the herbicide atrazine (0, 4, 40, and 400 μg L−1) by quantifying growth, survival, hatching, and metamorphosis under an atrazine exposure duration that was either constant or that depended on time to metamorphosis (and thus temperature). Increasing atrazine concentrations reduced growth, delayed hatching and metamorphosis, and decreased embryonic and larval survival. Increasing temperatures enhanced growth, accelerated development, and reduced survival for embryos but not larvae. With the exception of growth, increasing temperatures generally did not enhance the toxicity of atrazine, but they did generally ameliorate the adverse effects of atrazine by accelerating development and reducing the duration of atrazine exposure. The actual effects of climate change on contaminants remains difficult to predict because temperature changes can affect chemical use, uptake, excretion, biotransformation, fate, transport, and bioavailability. However, this work highlights the importance of explicitly considering how climate change will affect both exposure and toxicity to contaminants to accurately assess risk.
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