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Heavy metal pollution negatively correlates with anuran species richness and distribution in south-eastern Australia

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Abstract

Heavy metal pollution has likely played an important role in global biodiversity decline, but there remains a paucity of information concerning the effects of metals on amphibian diversity. This study assessed anuran species richness and distribution in relation to sediment metal content and water chemistry in wetlands located along the Merri Creek corridor in Victoria, south-eastern Australia. Anurans were present in 60% (21/35) of study sites, with a total of six species detected: the eastern common froglet (Crinia signifera), the eastern sign-bearing froglet (Crinia parinsignifera), the southern brown tree frog (Litoria ewingii), the growling grass frog (Litoria raniformis), the eastern banjo frog (Limnodynastes dumerilii) and the spotted marsh frog (Limnodynastes tasmaniensis). Mean species richness was 1.77 ± 0.32 per site, and species richness ranged from zero to six species per site. Across sites, species richness correlated negatively with sediment concentrations of six heavy metals: copper, nickel, lead, zinc, cadmium and mercury. Species richness also correlated negatively with wetland water electrical conductivity (a proxy for salinity) and concentrations of orthophosphate. Distributions of the three most commonly observed frog species (C. signifera, L. tasmaniensis and L. ewingii) were significantly negatively associated with the total level of metal contamination at individual sites. The study is the first to provide evidence for an association between metal contamination and anuran species richness and distribution in the southern hemisphere, adding to a small but growing body of evidence that heavy metal pollution has contributed to global amphibian decline.

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