Continued human population growth and industrialization result in increased contamination of wildlife habitats. Effects of such habitat deterioration on the well-being of natural populations are unclear. Exposure to contaminants may impair immunocompetence, thereby increasing disease susceptibility. The mammalian immune system is important in maintaining health and in its sensitivity to toxins. In our study conducted from May 1999 through May 2001, we examined assays of immunocompetence in the white-footed mouse (Peromyscus leucopus) that inhabited reference sites and sites significantly contaminated with mixtures of heavy metals. We estimated potential exposure and uptake of heavy metals by measuring the level of each contaminant in representative soil and tissue samples. Intraindividual variation across mice, but not sex, explained a large portion of the overall variance in immune response, and spleen weight was significantly affected by mouse age. We found no evidence that residence on contaminated sites had any effect on immunopathology and humoral immunity as measured in our study. We suggest that field and laboratory studies in ecotoxicology provide estimates of exposure to contaminants (i.e., tissue analyses) to establish a database suitable to clarify the dose-response relationship between contaminants and target systems.
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Vol. 40 • No. 2