Paper: Contaminant mixtures interact to impair predator-avoidance behaviours and survival in a larval amphibian

Global declines in amphibian populations are a significant conservation concern, and environmental contamination is likely a contributing driver. Although direct toxicity may be partly responsible, contaminants are often present at sub-lethal concentrations in the wild. Behavioural end-points are becoming an increasingly useful method to estimate the impact of contaminants, particularly if the behavioural responses manifest to affect individual fitness (i.e. survival, growth, or reproduction). In the wild, most animals are affected by multiple stressors, and determining how these interact to affect behaviour is critical for understanding the ecological implications of contaminant exposure. Here, we examined the individual and interactive effect of the heavy metal copper and the insecticide imidacloprid on mortality rates and anti-predator behaviours of spotted marsh frog (Limnodynastes tasmaniensis) tadpoles. This common species frequently occupies and breeds in contaminated stormwater and agricultural wetlands, where copper and imidacloprid are often present. These contaminants may alter behaviour via physiological and neurological pathways, as well as affecting how tadpoles respond to chemical cues. Tadpoles suffered unexpectedly high mortality rates when exposed to imidacloprid concentrations well below published LC50 concentrations. Only unexposed tadpoles significantly avoided predator cues. Copper and imidacloprid reduced swimming speed and distance, and escape responses, while increasing erratic swimming. We observed an interactive effect of imidacloprid and copper on erratic swimming, but in general imidacloprid and copper did not act synergistically. Our results suggest that as contaminants enter waterbodies, tadpoles will suffer considerable direct mortality, reduced foraging capacity, and increased susceptibility to predation. Our results provide the first evidence of imidacloprid affecting amphibian behaviour, and highlight both the adverse effects of copper and imidacloprid, and the importance of exploring the effect of multiple contaminants simultaneously.

Fig. 3

Behavioural responses recorded during the prodding period following 24-h exposure to copper, imidacloprid and the combination of both. Total distance travelled (a), average swimming speed (b), escape response (c; time taken to swim 25 mm following the first prod), and erratic swimming (d; the number of turns made greater than 90 degrees). Mean ± SE are shown, with points intentionally jittered.


Sievers, M., Hale, R., Swearer, S. E., and Parris, K. M. (2018). Contaminant mixtures interact to impair predator-avoidance behaviours and survival in a larval amphibian. Ecotoxicology and environmental Safety. DOI: 10.1016/j.ecoenv.2018.06.028.

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