Impact of organochlorine contamination on levels of sex hormones and external morphology of common snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina serpentina) in Ontario, Canada.
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Recent research has suggested that contaminants in the environment may influence sex differentiation and reproductive endocrine function in wildlife. Concentrations of organochlorine contaminants (total polychlorinated biphenyls, pesticides) were higher in the blood plasma of snapping turtles from contaminated sites than in those from reference sites. The ratio of the precloacal length to the posterior lobe of the plastron (PPR) is sexually dimorphic in snapping turtles. There were significant reductions in the PPR at three contaminated sites versus two reference sites. The magnitude of the response was such that a significantly higher proportion of PPRs of males from a contaminated site (Cootes Paradise) overlapped with those of females than PPRs of males from a reference site (Lake Sasajewun). Observers can incorrectly identify the sex of turtles at the contaminated site based on secondary sexual characteristics alone. Unlike the changes to the morphology, there were few changes in 17 beta-estradiol or testosterone levels, and where differences occurred, there was more variation among reference sites than between the reference and contaminated sites. Our results suggest that environmental contaminants may affect sexually dimorphic morphology in snapping turtles without affecting circulating testosterone or estrogen levels in the adults.
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