Diamondback terrapins as indicator species of persistent organic pollutants: Using Barnegat Bay, New Jersey as a case study

Chemosphere. 2011 Jan;82(1):137-44. doi: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2010.09.009. Epub 2010 Oct 13.


The diamondback terrapin's (Malaclemys terrapin) wide geographic distribution, long life span, occurrence in a variety of habitats within the saltmarsh ecosystem, predatory foraging behavior, and high site fidelity make it a useful indicator species for contaminant monitoring in estuarine ecosystems. In this study fat biopsies and plasma samples were collected from males and females from two sites within Barnegat Bay, New Jersey, as well as tissues from a gravid female and blue mussels (Mytilus edulis), which are terrapin prey. Samples were analyzed for persistent organic pollutants (POPs), including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), chlorinated pesticides, and methyl-triclosan. Terrapins from the northern site, Spizzle Creek, closest to influences from industrial areas, had higher POP concentrations for both tissues than terrapins from the less impacted Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. Sex differences were observed with males having higher contaminant concentrations in fat and females in plasma. PCB patterns in terrapin fat and plasma were comparable to other wildlife. An atypical PBDE pattern was observed, dominated by PBDEs 153 and 100 instead of PBDEs 47 and 99, which has been documented in only a few other turtle species. The typical PBDE patterns measured in mussels, terrapin prey, suggests that the terrapin may efficiently biotransform or eliminate PBDE 47 and possibly PBDE 99. Plasma contaminant concentrations significantly and positively correlated with those in fat. This study addresses several aspects of using the terrapin as an indicator species for POP monitoring: site and sex differences, tissue sampling choices, maternal transfer, and biomagnification.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mytilus edulis / metabolism
  • New Jersey
  • Organic Chemicals / blood
  • Organic Chemicals / metabolism*
  • Seawater / chemistry
  • Turtles / metabolism*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / blood
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / metabolism*
  • Water Pollution, Chemical / statistics & numerical data


  • Organic Chemicals
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical