Teratogenic Effects of Selenium in Natural Populations of Fresh Water Fish
The prevalence of abnormalities and associated tissue selenium residues were assessed for the fish population of Belews Lake, North Carolina, and two reference lakes in 1975, 1978, 1982, and 1992. Teratogenic defects identified included lofdosis, kyphosis, scoliosis, and head, mouth, and fin deformities. Many fish exhibited multiple malformations and some were grossly deformed and distorted in appearance. Other abnormalities observed were edema, exopthalmus, and cataracts. Whole-body tissue residues of selenium in the fishes of Belews Lake were up to 130 times those in the reference lakes and the incidence of abnormalities was some 7 to 70 times greater. Teratogenic defects increased as selenium levels rose between 1975 aud 1982 and fell with declining selenium levels between 1982 and 1992 as selenium inputs into Belews Lake were curtailed. The relationship between selenium residues and prevalence of malformations approximated an exponential function (R2 = 0.88 1, P < 0.01; cubic model) for centrarchids over the range of 1-80 mcg/g dry wt seleniumand O-70% deformities. This relationship could be useful in evaluating the role of teratogenic effects in warm-water fish populations suspected of having selenium-related reproductive failure. Unique conditions may have existed in Belews Lake which led to the high frequency and persistence of deformities in juvenile and adult fish. In other, less-contaminated locations competition and predation may eliminate malformed individuals in all but the larval life stage. Teratogenesis could be an important, but easily overlooked phenomenon contributing to fishery reproductive failure in selenium-contaminated aquatic habitats.