Chronic exposure to a glyphosate-based herbicide makes toad larvae more toxic.Proc Biol Sci. 2017 Jul 12; 284(1858)PB
Chemical pollutants can exert various sublethal effects on wildlife, leading to complex fitness consequences. Many animals use defensive chemicals as protection from predators and diseases, yet the effects of chemical contaminants on this important fitness component are poorly known. Understanding such effects is especially relevant for amphibians, the globally most threatened group of vertebrates, because they are particularly vulnerable to chemical pollution. We conducted two experiments to investigate how exposure to glyphosate-based herbicides, the most widespread agrochemicals worldwide, affects the production of bufadienolides, the main compounds of chemical defence in common toads (Bufo bufo). In both experiments, herbicide exposure increased the amount of bufadienolides in toad tadpoles. In the laboratory, individuals exposed to 4 mg a.e./L glyphosate throughout their larval development had higher bufadienolide content at metamorphosis than non-exposed tadpoles, whereas exposure for 9 days to the same concentration or to 2 mg a.e./L throughout larval development or for 9 days had no detectable effect. In outdoor mesocosms, tadpoles from 16 populations exhibited elevated bufadienolide content after three-weeks exposure to both concentrations of the herbicide. These results show that pesticide exposure can have unexpected effects on non-target organisms, with potential consequences for the conservation management of toxin-producing species and their predators.