Can Illicit Drugs be Detected in Predators? A Case Study for Alligator mississippiensis as Sentinels for Methamphetamine and Related Analyte Contamination

Date

2023-12

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Abstract

The Gulf of Mexico is a vast area that includes many different habitats such as mangroves, estuaries, and swamp lands. This area includes both highly urbanized areas and more remote areas. Many studies of environmental contaminants cover substances such as pesticides, pharmaceuticals, and personal care products. However, in more recent years a new class of contaminant is starting to surface: illicit drugs. This study focuses on the detection of such contaminants, specifically amphetamine, MDA, MDEA, MDMA, and methamphetamine, in the predator species the American Alligator mississippiensis collected from a hide check station representing a highly urbanized area, Houston, TX, and a protected wildlife area, the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge in Grand Chenier, LA. A. mississippiensis are of particular interest as they are not only apex predators, but they are considered environmental indicators as well as trophic regulators. Given that this species is a highly opportunistic predator, it is suggested that there may be a potential for this novel set of contaminants to be transferred an apex predator through environmental exposure and/or trophic transfer through contaminated prey items. This study utilizes tissues adipose, liver, and scutes collected from alligators in the Houston, TX area and the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge in Grand Chenier, LA. Tissues were homogenized and processed using QuECHERS salt extraction methods. Chemical analysis using liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) indicates that amphetamine was found in alligator adipose, liver and scute tissue at both locations in the range of none found up to 33.650 ppb. This study will highlight the use of various tissue samples to determine the narcotic concentrations in an apex species along with. Statistical analysis for differences between sites (urbanized vs protected), age class, and sex of the individuals revealed consistent significances between contaminant concentrations and location of samples (p = 0.002 for methamphetamine and p = <0.001 for amphetamine) along with significant differences in contaminant concentrations found across age class (p = 0.030, < 0.001, and 0.022) for methamphetamine, amphetamine, and MDEA respectively.

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Keywords

alligators, predators, sentinel species, methamphetamine, toxicology

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