Oral Presentation Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry Australasia 2021

Snake scales record environmental metal(loid) contamination (#144)

Damian C Lettoof 1 , Kai Rankenburg 1 , Brad J McDonald 1 , Noreen J Evans 1 , Phil W Bateman 1 , Fabien Aubret 1 , Marthe Monique M Gagnon 1
  1. Curtin University, Bentley, WA, Australia

Wetland snakes, as top predators, are becoming globally recognised as bioindicators of wetland contamination. Livers are the traditional test organ for contaminant exposure in organisms, but research is moving towards a preference for non-lethal tissue sampling. Snake scales can be used as an indicator of exposure, as many metals bind to the keratin. We used laser ablation with inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectroscopy and mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) to quantify the concentrations of 19 metals and metalloids (collectively referred to ‘metals’ hereafter) in Western tiger snake (Notechis scutatus occidentalis) scales from four wetlands along an urban gradient, and compared them to concentrations measured in captive tiger snake scales. We conducted repeat measures to determine the concentration accuracy of each metal using LA-ICP-MS. Concentrations in wild Western tiger snake scales were significantly higher than in reference tiger snake scales for most metals analysed, suggesting accumulation from environmental exposure. We compared the scale concentrations to sediment concentrations of sampled wetlands, and found inter-site differences between mean concentrations of metals in scales parallel patterns recorded from sediment. Four metals (Mn, As, Se, Sb) had strong positive correlations with liver tissue contents suggesting scale concentrations can be used to infer internal concentrations. By screening for a larger suite of metals than we could using traditional digestive methods, we identified additional metals (Ti, V, Sr, Cs, Tl, Th, U) that may be accumulating to levels of concern in tiger snakes in Perth,Western Australia. This research has progressed the use of LA-ICP-MS for quantifying a suite of metals available in snake scales, and highlights the significance of using wetland snake scales as a non-lethal indicator of environmental contamination.