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Organic contaminants in western pond turtles in remote habitat in California


Remote aquatic ecosystems are exposed to an assortment of semivolatile organic compounds (SOCs) originating from current and historic uses, of local and global origin. Here, a representative suite of 57 current- and historic-use pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons were surveyed in the plasma of the western pond turtle (Emys marmorata) and their potential prey items and habitat. California study sites included Sequoia National Park, Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, and Six Rivers National Forest. Each was downstream of undeveloped watersheds and varied in distance from agricultural and urban pollution sources. SOCs were detected frequently in all sites with more found in turtle plasma and aquatic macroinvertebrates in the two sites closest to agricultural and urban sources. Summed PCBs were highest in Whiskeytown National Recreation Area turtle plasma (mean; 1.56 ng/g ww) compared to plasma from Sequoia National Park (0.16 ng/g ww; p = 0.002) and Six Rivers National Forest (0.07 ng/g ww; p = 0.001). While no current-use pesticides were detected in turtle plasma at any site, both current- and historic-use pesticides were found prominently in sediment and macroinvertebrates at the Sequoia National Park site, which is immediately downwind of Central Valley agriculture. SOC classes associated with urban and industrial pollution were found more often and at higher concentrations at Whiskeytown National Recreation Area. These findings demonstrate a range of SOC exposure in a turtle species with current and proposed conservation status and shed additional light on the fate of environmental contaminants in remote watersheds.

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