Road salt is taking its toll on insects in Toronto area, researchers find

phys.org | 5/24/2018 | Staff
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It may help keep your car on the road in the winter, but research from the University of Toronto suggests that road salt is creating problems for wildlife.

Researchers from the lab of Shannon McCauley, an associate professor of biology at U of T Mississauga, investigated the impact of road salt exposure on larvae of Anax junius dragonflies. The results, published in the journal Frontiers of Ecology and Evolution, show that long-term exposure to high levels of salinity suppress the immune response of aquatic insects, negatively impacting their ability to fight infections and recover from injuries.

Darners - Anax - Junius - Dragonflies - Species

Known as "green darners," Anax junius dragonflies are one of the most common and abundant species in North America. Long and thin, they can grow to a length of 76 mm and are fierce and voracious predators.

"They eat everything, including each other, other dragonflies, mosquitos and zooplankton," says Rosalind Murray, a post-doctoral researcher in the McCauley Lab who co-authored the study with McCauley and undergraduate biology student Racquelle Mangahas. "In a fishless pond, Anax junius are top predators that shape the aquatic ecosystem.

Invertebrates—larger - Insects—respond - Salinity - One - Species

"We don't know much about how macro invertebrates—larger insects—respond to salinity, and no one has ever looked at this particular species."

Murray notes that 2017 was a boom year for the insects, which were collected at U of T's Koffler Scientific Reserve north of Toronto for the study. "It was a good opportunity to ask questions about what is happening to these top predators," she says.

Salt - Enters - Environments - Number - Ways

Salt enters aquatic environments in a number of ways. In colder climates, salt is spread liberally for traction on icy roads, parking lots and walking paths, where it can be washed into ponds, rivers and streams when the snow melts. In warmer locales, salt also enters the watershed through road gravel, agricultural applications and runoff from saltwater residential pools.

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