The fungicide chlorothalonil is nonlinearly associated with corticosterone levels, immunity, and mortality in amphibians

Taegan A. McMahon, Neal T. Halstead, Steve Johnson, Thomas R. Raffel, John M. Romansic, Patrick W. Crumrine, Raoul K. Boughton, Lynn B. Martin, Jason R. Rohr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

82 Scopus citations


Background: Contaminants have been implicated in declines of amphibians, a taxon with vital systems similar to those of humans. However, many chemicals have not been thoroughly tested on amphibians or do not directly kill them. Objective: Our goal in this study was to quantify amphibian responses to chlorothalonil, the most commonly used synthetic fungicide in the United States. Methods: We reared Rana sphenocephala (southern leopard frog) and Osteopilus septentrionalis (Cuban treefrog) in outdoor mesocosms with or without 1 time (1×) and 2 times (2×) the expected environmental concentration (EEC) of chlorothalonil (~ 164 μg/L). We also conducted two dose-response experiments on O. septentrionalis, Hyla squirella (squirrel treefrog), Hyla cinerea (green treefrog), and R. sphenocephala and evaluated the effects of chlorothalonil on the stress hormone corticosterone. Results: For both species in the mesocosm experiment, the 1× and 2× EEC treatments were associated with > 87% and 100% mortality, respectively. In the laboratory experiments, the approximate EEC caused 100% mortality of all species within 24 hr; 82 μg/L killed 100% of R. sphenocephala, and 0.0164 μg/L caused significant tadpole mortality of R. sphenocephala and H. cinerea. Three species showed a nonmonotonic dose response, with low and high concentrations causing significantly greater mortality than did intermediate concentrations or control treatments. For O. septentrionalis, corticosterone exhibited a similar nonmonotonic dose response and chlorothalonil concentration was inversely associated with liver tissue and immune cell densities (< 16.4 μg/L). Conclusions: Chlorothalonil killed nearly every amphibian at the approximate EEC; at concentrations to which humans are commonly exposed, it increased mortality and was associated with elevated corticosterone levels and changes in immune cells. Future studies should directly quantify the effects of chlorothalonil on amphibian populations and human health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1098-1103
Number of pages6
JournalEnvironmental Health Perspectives
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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