Sexual Maturity and Life Stage Influences Toxic Metal Accumulation in Croatian Brown Bears
The influence of reproductive and (early) life stages on toxic metal levels was investigated in the brown bear (Ursus arctos), the largest mammalian predator species in Croatia. The purpose was to examine critical clusters in a population that might be at a higher risk of adverse health effects caused by metals as environmental contaminants. Levels of cadmium, mercury and lead in muscle, liver and kidney cortex of 325 male and 139 female bears, quantified by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry, were analysed according to distinct bear life stages (young: cub, yearling, subadult; mature: adult). Metal levels did not differ among sexes in young animals (< 4 years), except for mercury in muscles (higher in females), and adult females had higher cadmium and mercury. A trend of renal cadmium accumulation with age in immature male animals disappeared once they reached maturity, whereas for females this trend has only slowly declined in mature compared to immature bears. In early life stage (< 1 year), bear cubs had lower cadmium, comparable mercury, and higher lead in the kidneys than the bears of the following age category (yearlings). Due to a higher proportion of renal lead transfer from the mother to the cub compared with cadmium, it may be that the high burden of cadmium found in kidneys of older females has lower toxicological concern for their cubs than the lead content. Sex, reproductive, and life stages of bears were confirmed as important in assessing toxic metal burden.
The help of local hunters and experts with the collection of samples is gratefully acknowledged. The authors thank Dr. Z. Kljaković-Gašpić for valuable comments on the manuscript, and Mr. Makso Herman and Ms. Željana Pavlaković for language editing.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
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