Faculty Research & Creative Activity

Document Type


Publication Date

January 2002


: The fact that raccoons (Procyon lotor) are an opportunistic omnivore has severely complicated interpreta- tions of contaminant uptake patterns due to the inability to determine the trophic position an individual occupies. Moreover, few studies have examined the relationships between heavy metal bioaccumulation and trophic struc- ture, especially in the terrestrial environment. In this study, the stable isotopes of nitrogen were used to charac- terize the feeding habits of the raccoon at the population level and to determine whether metal burden was relat- ed to trophic feeding structure within a welldefined ecosystem. Raccoon populations were isotopically distinct, and significant positive relationships existed between some trace element contents and 6 1 5 ~of muscle when site was used as a covariable in a statistical model. Although the transfer of metals through terrestrial ecosystems is com- plex, our study showed that some of the variation in contaminant body burdens in raccoon populations can be attributed to trophic feeding position and that 1 5 ~ / 1 4 ~ ratios of muscle tissue provide a quantitative measure of this process. The potential for using omnivores such as the raccoon, as a sentinel species for contaminant studies, should be explored further since the ambiguity of the relative trophlc level an animal occupies can be directly esti- mated. This provides a more extensive sampling across trophic levels using a single species, which can have broad consequences for ecological risk assessments


This research was originally published in the Journal of Wildlife Management, Vol. 66, No. 3. (Jul., 2002), pp. 811-821.

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