Svalbard reindeer as an indicator of ecosystem changes in the Arctic terrestrial ecosystem
Over the years, noticeable effort has been directed towards contaminant determination in multiple biotic samples collected from the inhabitants of the Arctic. Little consideration has been given to polar herbivores, however, especially those from the European parts of the Arctic. To provide a broader perspective, we aimed to decipher trace element concentration in hairs of the key species in the Arctic, namely the Svalbard reindeer (Rangifer tarandus platyrhynchus), and to recognise whether diet variations could correspond with forward exposure. The effect of habitat and diet was investigated using the ratios of stable isotopes of carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N), and previous literature studies on vegetation from the areas of interest. Analysis was performed for eighteen elements in total, both toxic and essential. Metals were present in a decreasing order Fe > Zn > Ba > Cu > Pb > Cr > Ni > V > Ga =La > Rb > As > Li > Co > Hg > Cd > Cs > Be. Similarity in trends in the studied subpopulations was observed for many metals. A significant log-linear correlation was observed for most of the elements, excluding nitrogen and carbon isotopes signature. Extremely high iron levels were determined in some of the samples, suggesting past iron overload. Zinc, in contrast to the remaining metals, did not correlate well with any other element. Mercury was determined at very low levels, in accordance with previous literature regarding its concentrations in moss and lichen species in Svalbard. The analysis of stable isotopes showed a high variation in nitrogen isotopes signatures. Further research is required to properly evaluate the potential health risks and ecological implications of elevated exposure.
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