Combining environmental chemistry, somatic biomarkers, and population genetics: an innovative approach in wildlife ecotoxicology
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The Caspian region and specifically the Apsheron peninsula of Azerbaijan is known to be polluted with a variety of environmental contaminants, making risk assessment difficult. The wetlands of Sumgayit contain particularly complex mixtures of contaminants. Flow cytometry and the micronucleus assay were used to assess chromosomal damage in aquatic turtles and frogs inhabiting contaminated wetlands in Azerbaijan. By evaluating biomarkers that are indicative of somatic effects, elevated chromosomal damage was documented at several sites in Azerbaijan relative to reference sites. Sediment samples were analyzed for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), organochlorines (OCs), and mercury to evaluate contaminant associations with genetic damage. Sediment samples revealed heterogeneous patterns of PAH and mercury concentrations throughout Sumgayit. Significant positive correlations were documented between both PAH and mercury sediment concentrations and chromosomal damage. Population genetic methods were employed to study the effects of long-term chronic contaminant exposure in marsh frogs from Sumgayit. The Sumgayit region has reduced levels of genetic diversity, likely due to environmental degradation. One of the most contaminated sites in Sumgayit, WTP, appears to be a source of new mutations as a result of an increased mutation rate. Finally, the Sumgayit region seems to act as an ecological sink, with levels of gene flow into the region exceeding gene flow out of the region. This study provides not only exposure and biomarker data, but also an integrated method for assessing the cumulative population impacts of contaminant exposure by studying both population genetic and evolutionary effects. The results presented here will be used in conjunction with those of ongoing research involving both wildlife and humans to develop comprehensive ecological and human risk assessments.
Matson, Cole Wesley (2003). Combining environmental chemistry, somatic biomarkers, and population genetics: an innovative approach in wildlife ecotoxicology. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Texas A&M University. Available electronically from