CSU – Pueblo chemistry faculty to research pharmaceutical contaminants in otters

CSU – Pueblo chemistry faculty to research pharmaceutical contaminants in otters

PUEBLO – Students and faculty in the Department of Chemistry at Colorado State University-Pueblo will join with representatives from the University of Montana and the Cardiff University Otter Project in working with the Montana-based organization Working Dogs for Conservation to study the possibilities of determining contaminant exposure in otters and minks through the analysis of scat, which if successful, would pave the way for less invasive forms of monitoring the health of aquatic wildlife and river systems.

This study builds on previous University of Montana work which documented heavy metal residues in osprey and the environment. This will be the first time that residue levels of pharmaceuticals and flame retardants are assessed for mink and otters in river stretches in Montana focusing on the corridor between Missoula and Butte and stretches of the Yellowstone, the Madison and the Jefferson. Otter and mink both are at the top of the aquatic food chain and prodigious eaters of fish, which make them good indicator species of overall ecosystem heath and water quality. Because both of these animals are elusive and notoriously difficult to capture, ecological surveys of these species have been challenging.  This research is made possible with support from Arthur L. and Elaine V. Johnson Foundation and Kenney Brothers Foundation.

According to Chemistry Professor Chad Kinney, researchers have typically relied on tissue samples taken from animal carcasses when assessing wildlife for contaminants exposure. This study will use scat – which can be gathered without handling or disturbing the animal – to see how successfully contaminants can be detected. This study will build on existing research at CSU-Pueblo focusing on the presence and behavior or pharmaceuticals and personal care products as environmental contaminants. This also is the first time that conservation dogs have been incorporated in this type of aquatic contaminant monitoring efforts and that mink and otter scats will have been analyzed for pharmaceuticals in any location. Since conservation dogs are highly proficient in locating the scat of specific target species, the aim is to train them to search for otter and mink scat to noninvasively investigate presence of contaminants in these species and, by extension, in the aquatic environment. The extent of dog survey success in locating otter and mink scats also will be of interest to wildlife managers for future design of field studies for these elusive animals.

Kinney and graduate students will perform some of the pharmaceutical and personal care products analysis of the otter scat at CSU-Pueblo beginning in late fall or early winter.

“Virtually nothing is known about presence/absence of contaminants from household, hospital and industrial sources in Montana waterways despite the presence of multiple wastewater treatment facilities and previous regional production of flame retardants,” said Dr. Ngaio Richards Ph.D. of Working Dogs for Conservation. “Given the repercussions of exposure, it is vitally important to determine if and where contamination is occurring so it can be halted at its source(s).”

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