A toxic diet: transfer of contaminants to offspring through a parental care mechanism

Richard J. Maunder, Jonathan Buckley, Adalberto L. Val, Katherine A. Sloman

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8 Citations (Scopus)


The transfer of maternal contaminants to offspring during oogenesis and gestation is documented in many animals, and in mammals, contaminants may pass from mother to offspring during lactation. Although other non-mammalian vertebrates provide parental care in the form of nutritive secretions for offspring to feed from, the potential for toxicant transfer during non-mammalian parental care is rarely considered. The discus fish, Symphysodon spp., employs an unusual parental care strategy where fry feed on parental epidermal mucus for several weeks after hatching. This strategy has the potential to act as a method of contaminant transfer. In discus adults, both waterborne and dietary toxicants are sequestered and secreted into their epidermal mucus, the food on which fry depend. To determine whether parents could channel these contaminants directly to offspring, we exposed parents to aqueous cadmium (Cd) and recorded the subsequent feeding behaviour and Cd content of fry. Fry continued to feed normally from contaminated mucus and accumulated significant tissue concentrations of Cd. In conclusion, this parental care mechanism of the discus fish can expose offspring to harmful contaminants during the sensitive early stages of life and highlights that parent to offspring contaminant transfer after birth may be more widespread than previously thought.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3587-3590
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number19
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2013


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