Heavy metal exposure, reproductive activity, and demographic patterns in white-footed mice (Peromyscus leucopus) inhabiting a contaminated floodplain wetland

Jeffrey M. Levengood, Edward J. Heske

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We examined the concentrations of selected metals and selenium (Se) in the tissues of white-footed mice (Peromyscus leucopus) collected at a constructed wetland originally created as a retention basin for sediments dredged from Lake DePue, Illinois. These sediments were contaminated with high concentrations of cadmium (Cd), zinc (Zn), and other elements as a result of nearby smelting operations. White-footed mice inhabiting the former retention basin experienced greater exposure to Cd, Pb, and Se than those from nearby reference sites. Concentrations of Cu and Zn in livers of mice from the contaminated wetland and adjacent floodplain reference site were greater than in mice from the more-distant reference sites. Judging by concentrations in their kidneys, white-footed mice inhabiting the floodplain adjacent to the contaminated wetland had greater exposure to Cd than those from the two more-distant reference sites. Concentrations of Hg in tissues of mice did not vary appreciably among sites. Concentrations of Cd and Se in the tissues of some white-footed mice from the contaminated wetland exceeded critical concentrations observed in experimental studies of laboratory mice and rats; with few exceptions tissue Pb concentrations were below published effects levels. However, we did not detect changes in abundance, demographics, or reproductive activity that might suggest population-level effects of contaminant exposure. Mean weight of embryos expressed as a function of crown-rump length did not differ among locations sampled, and no gross lesions indicative of exposure to heavy metals were observed. Kidney and liver weight, corrected for body weight, were nominally, though not significantly, lowest in both male and female mice from areas of increased Cd and Pb exposure. Metals dredged from Lake DePue were still bioavailable 25 years after deposition. However, small mammal populations are resilient to environmental stressors and we did not detect differences in population parameters suggesting that the population of white-footed mice inhabiting the contaminated wetland was at risk from increased exposure to these contaminants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)320-328
Number of pages9
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Jan 25 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • INHS

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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