Amphibians can be exposed to contaminants in nature by many routes, but perhaps the most likely route is agricultural runoff in amphibian breeding sites. This runoff results in high-level pulses of pesticides. For example, atrazine, the most widely used pesticide in the United States, can be present at several parts per million in agricultural runoff. However, pesticide levels are likely to remain in the environment at low levels for longer periods. Nevertheless, most studies designed to examine the impacts of contaminants are limited to short-term (approximately 4 days) tests conducted at relatively high concentrations. To investigate longer-term (approximately 30 days) exposure of amphibians to low pesticide levels, we exposed tadpoles of four species of frogs--spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer), American toads (Bufo americanus, green frogs (Rana clamitans), and wood frogs (Rana sylvatica)--at early and late developmental stages to low concentrations of a commercial preparation of atrazine (3, 30, or 100 ppb; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency drinking water standard is 3 ppb). We found counterintuitive patterns in rate of survivorship. Survival was significantly lower for all animals exposed to 3 ppb compared with either 30 or 100 ppb, except the late stages of B. americanus and R. sylvatica. These survival patterns highlight the importance of investigating the impacts of contaminants with realistic exposures and at various developmental stages. This may be particularly important for compounds that produce greater mortality at lower doses than higher doses, a pattern characteristic of many endocrine disruptors.
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