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Heavy metal wombats? Metal exposure pathways to bare-nosed wombats (Vombatus ursinus) living on remediated tin mine tailings

Penrose, B ORCID: 0000-0001-9604-4953, MacIntosh, AE ORCID: 0000-0001-8438-7713, Parbhakar-Fox, A ORCID: 0000-0002-3570-1195, Smith, LBE, Sawyer, T, D'Agnese, E and Carver, SS ORCID: 0000-0002-3579-7588 2022 , 'Heavy metal wombats? Metal exposure pathways to bare-nosed wombats (Vombatus ursinus) living on remediated tin mine tailings' , Science of the Total Environment, vol. 835 , pp. 1-10 , doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.155526.

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Abstract

Rehabilitation of disused mine sites through stabilisation and botanical restoration is ecologically important, but metal transfer pathways to colonising wildlife are often less understood and have never been studied in marsupials. The rehabilitated Royal George tin mine tailings (Tasmania, Australia) and colonisation by bare-nosed wombats (Vombatus ursinus) represented an opportunity to examine potential metal transfer from mine tailings to an herbivorous marsupial. The aim of this study was to examine metal transfer pathways from the mine tailings to wombats, and to determine if wombats are at risk from metal exposure. Concentrations of metals were measured in the tailings substrate, surface water and vegetation, as well as fur samples from a resident wombat, and non-resident (control) wombats. The mineralogy of the tailings is dominated by quartz, muscovite, feldspars, topaz, kaolinite and calcite. Concentrations of several metals were high (exceeding varying health standards) in the tailings (As, Cu, Hg, Pb, Ni, Zn), water (As, Cd, Cu, Zn) and vegetation (As, Cd, Cu, Pb, Mn, Zn). Relative to non-resident wombats, elevated levels of As, Cd, Cu, Pb and Sn were measured in the fur of a resident wombat. Based on modelling of the exposure pathways, consumption of plant material is the most likely metal transfer pathway for As, Cu and Pb, although the risks from ingestion of tailings to this fossorial marsupial should not be discounted. This study is the first to investigate metal exposure pathways to marsupials using rehabilitated mine tailings. Further research is needed to accurately quantify ecological risks and toxicity for wombats and other marsupials native to mining landscapes.

Item Type: Article
Authors/Creators:Penrose, B and MacIntosh, AE and Parbhakar-Fox, A and Smith, LBE and Sawyer, T and D'Agnese, E and Carver, SS
Keywords: rehabilitation, wombat, mining, ecotoxicology, wildlife
Journal or Publication Title: Science of the Total Environment
Publisher: Elsevier Science Bv
ISSN: 0048-9697
DOI / ID Number: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.155526
Copyright Information:

Copyright (2022) Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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