Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Levels of toxic and essential elements in arctic fox in Svalbard


Concentrations of cadmium, mercury, lead, arsenic, selenium, copper, zinc, manganese and iron in liver, and cadmium in kidneys, were analysed in 95 carcasses of arctic fox (Alopex lagopus) caught in Svalbard during three winter seasons from 1984 through 1986. The hepatic concentration ranges of cadmium, mercury, lead and arsenic were 0.1–2.4, 0.01–2.2, < 0.5–2.9 and 0.01–1.3 μg·g−1 WW, respectively. The range of cadmium concentration in the kidneys was from 0.2 to 13 μg·g−1 WW. Cadmium and mercury concentrations were higher in adult animals than in juveniles. The average concentrations of cadmium and lead were similar to recently published levels in polar bear from Svalbard, but the mercury concentrations were lower. Significant geographical differences were observed between trapping areas. Foxes caught north of Isfjorden had lower levels of liver iron and higher levels of all other elements analysed than those caught south of Isfjorden. The recorded concentrations of heavy metals indicate a moderate degree of exposure, which most likely is of natural origin.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Bombosch S (1981) Schadstoffe im Wildbret. Zum Quecksilbergehalt einheimischer Wildarten. Wild und Hund 84:461–65 and 492–94

  2. Borch-Iohnsen B, Nilssen K (1987) Seasonal iron overload in Svalbard reindeer. J Nutr 117:2072–78

  3. Clarkson TW (1987) Mercury. In: Mertz W (ed) Trace elements in human and animal nutrition. 5th ed. Vol 1, pp 417–28

  4. De Master D, Stirling I (1981) Ursus maritimus. Mammalian Species 145:1–7

  5. Fay FH, Stephenson RO (1989) Annual, seasonal, and habitat-re-lated variation in feeding habits of the arctic fox (Alopex lagopus) on St. Lawrence Island, Bering Sea. Can J Zool 67:1986–94

  6. Frøslie A, Haugen A, Holt G, Norheim G (1986) Levels of cadmium in liver and kidneys from Norwegian cervides. Bull Environ Contam Toxicol 37:453–60

  7. Frøslie, A, Norheim G, Rambaek JP, Steinnes E (1984) Levels of trace elements in liver from Norwegian moose, reindeer and red deer in relation to atmospheric deposition. Acta vet Scand 25:333–45

  8. Garrott RA, Eberhardt LE (1987) Arctic fox. In: Novak M., Baker, JA, Obbard ME, Malloch B (eds.) Wild furbearer management and conservation in North America. Ontario trappers Assoc., North Bay/Min. of Natural Resources, Ontario, pp 394–406

  9. Grue H, Jensen B (1976) Annual cementum structures in canine teeth in arctic foxes (Alopex lagopus) from Greenland and Denmark. Dan Rev Game Biol 10:1–12

  10. Haugen A, Høie R, Norheim G (1985) Automated hydride generator determination of selenium and mercury in biological material. Presented at 10th Nordic Atomic Spectrosc. and Trace Elem. Conf., Turku, Finland, 6–9 August 1985

  11. Jaworowski Z (1989) Pollution of the Norwegian arctic: A review. Norsk Polarinst Rep. No. 55, 105 pp

  12. Kostial K (1986) Cadmium. In: Mertz W (ed) Trace elements in human and animal nutrition. 5th ed. Vol 2, pp 319–45

  13. Nissen Ø (1982) Statistik program for CP/M-maskiner. Agricult Univ of Norway, Dept of Crop Science. Report No 202, 55 pp.

  14. Norheim G (1987) Levels and interactions of heavy metals in sea birds from Svalbard and the Antarctic. Environ Pollut 47:83–94.

  15. Norheim G (1989) High productivity analyses of elements in foods using automated digestion and atomic absorbtion techniques. In: Agriculture, food chemistry and the consumer. Proc. fifth Eur Conf Food Chem, Versailles, France, 27–29 September 1989. Vol 2, pp. 730–34

  16. Norheim G, Haugen A (1986) Precise determination of selenium in tissues using automated wet digestion and an automated hydride generator-atomic absorbtion spectroscopy system. Acta Pharmacol Toxicol 59, [Suppl VII] 610–12

  17. Norheim G, Nilssen K (1990) Cadmium in Svalbard reindeer. In: Låg J (ed) Excess and deficiency of trace elements in relation to human and animal health in arctic and subarctic regions. Norw Acad of Sci and Lett, Oslo., pp 215–16.

  18. Norheim G, Skaare JU, Wiig Ø (1992) Some heavy metals, essential elements, and chlorinated hydrocarbons in polar bear (Ursus maritimus) at Svalbard. Environ Pollut 77:51–57

  19. Ottar B, Gotaas Y, Hov Ø, Iversen T, Joranger E, Oehme M, Pacyna J, Semb A, Thomas W, Vitols V (1986). Air pollutants in the arctic. Norw Inst for Air Res, Lillestrøm, Report No. OR-30/86, pp 81

  20. Perttila M, Stenman O, Pyysalo H, Wickstrøm K (1986) Heavy metals and organochlorine compounds in seals in the Gulf of Finland. Marine Environ Res 18:43–59

  21. Prestrud P (1992) Food habits and observations of the hunting behaviour in arctic foxes, Alopex lagopus, in Svalbard. Can Field-Nat 106:225–236

  22. Smith TG (1976) Predation of ringed seal pups (Phoca hispida) by the arctic fox (Alopex lagopus). Can J Zool 54:1610–16

  23. Smith TG, Armstrong FAJ (1975) Mercury in seals, terrestrial carnivores, and principal food items of the Inuit, from Holman, N.W.T. J Fish Res Board Can 32:795–801

  24. Zimmer AM (1973) The cadmium, zinc, lead and nickel concentrations in various wildlife species. Ph.D. thesis, Purdue Univ, pp 249

Download references

Author information

Additional information

Gunnar Norheim died January 9, 1991

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Prestrud, P., Norheim, G., Sivertsen, T. et al. Levels of toxic and essential elements in arctic fox in Svalbard. Polar Biol 14, 155–159 (1994).

Download citation


  • Mercury
  • Cadmium
  • Manganese
  • Arsenic
  • Selenium