Potentially Toxic Element Accumulation in Badgers (Meles meles): A Compositional Approach

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Potentially Toxic Elements (PTEs) in Badgers (Meles meles), otherwise known as heavy metals, are unique amongst environmental pollutants occurring, both naturally and anthropogenically. PTEs have a broad range of negative health and environmental effects, therefore identifying their sources and pathways through the environment is imperative for public health policy. This is difficult in terrestrial systems due to the compositional nature of soil geochemistry. In this study, a compositional statistical approach was used to identify how PTEs accumulate in a terrestrial carnivorous mammal, Eurasian Badgers (Meles meles). Compositional principal component analysis (PCA) was used on geochemical data from the Tellus survey, the soil baseline and badger tissue data to map geo-spatial patterns of PTEs and show accumulative trends measured in time. Mapping PCs identified distinct regions of PTE presence in soil and PTE accumulation in badger tissues in Northern Ireland. PTEs were most elevated in liver, kidney and then muscle tissues. Liver and kidney showed the most distinct geo-spatial patterns of accumulation and muscle was the most depleted. PC1 and 2 for each type were modelled using generalised additive mixed models (GAMM) to identify trends through time. PC1 for the liver and muscle were associated with rainfall and ∂N15 in the liver, showing a link to diet and a bioaccumulation pathway, whilst PC2 for both tissues was associated with mean temperature, showing a link to seasonal activity and a bioaccessibility pathway. However, in kidney tissue these trends are reversed and PC1 was associated with bioaccessibility and PC2 with bioaccumulation. Combined these techniques can elucidate both geo-spatial trends in PTEs and the mechanisms by which they move in environment and in future may be an effective tool for assessing PTE bioavailability in environmental health surveys.
Original languageEnglish
Article number143087
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date17 Oct 2020
Publication statusPublished - 25 Mar 2021


  • Bioaccumulation
  • Bioaccessibility
  • Compositional data
  • Potentially Toxic Element

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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