Walrus teeth as biomonitors of trace elements in Arctic marine ecosystems
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Walrus teeth as biomonitors of trace elements in Arctic marine ecosystems

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  • Journal Title:
    Science of The Total Environment
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    Effective biomonitoring requires an understanding of the factors driving concentrations of the substances or compounds of interest in the tissues of studied organisms. Biomonitoring of trace elements, and heavy metals in particular, has been the focus of much research; however, the complex roles many trace elements play in animal and plant tissues can make it difficult to disentangle environmental signals from physiology. This study examined the concentrations of 15 trace elements in the teeth of 122 Pacific walruses (Odobenus rosmarus divergens) to investigate the potential for walrus teeth as biomonitors of trace elements in Arctic ecosystems. Elemental concentrations were measured across cementum growth layer groups (GLGs), thereby reconstructing a lifetime history of element concentrations for each walrus. The locations of GLGs were used to divide trace element time series into individual years, allowing each GLG to be associated with an animal age and a calendar year. The elements studied exhibited a great deal of complexity, reflecting the numerous factors responsible for generating tooth trace element concentrations. Generalized linear mixed models were used to investigate the importance of age and sex in explaining observed variation in trace element concentrations. Some elements exhibited clear physiological signals (particularly zinc, strontium, barium, and lead), and all elements except arsenic varied by age and/or sex. Pearson's correlations revealed that elements were more strongly correlated among calendar years than among individual walruses, and correlations of trace elements within individual walruses were generally inconsistent or weak. Plots of average elemental concentrations through time from 1945 to 2014 further supported the correlation analyses, with many elements exhibiting similar patterns across the ~70-year period. Together, these results indicate the importance of physiology in modulating tooth trace element concentrations in walrus tooth cementum, but suggest that many trace elements reflect a record of environmental exposure and dietary intake/uptake.
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    Science of The Total Environment, 772, 145500
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    CC BY
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