Evidence of chronic cadmium exposure identified in the critically endangered Christmas Island flying-fox (Pteropus natalis)

Laura A. Pulscher, Rachael Gray, Robert McQuilty, Karrie Rose, Justin A. Welbergen, David N. Phalen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


The Christmas Island flying-fox (Pteropus natalis) is the last native mammal on Christmas Island and its population is in decline. Phosphate mining occurs across much of the eastern side of Christmas Island. The phosphate deposits are naturally rich in cadmium, and potentially other metals, which may be threatening the Christmas Island flying-fox population. To test this, concentrations of metals (cadmium, copper, iron, mercury, lead, and zinc) were measured in fur and urine collected from Christmas Island flying-foxes and interpreted concurrently with urinalysis and serum biochemistry data. In addition, metal concentrations in liver and kidney samples from two Christmas Island flying-foxes and associated histological findings from one of these individuals are reported. Fur cadmium concentrations were significantly higher in the Christmas Island flying-fox compared to concentrations found in flying-foxes in mainland Australia. Additionally, 30% of Christmas Island flying-foxes had urine cadmium concentrations exceeding maximum concentrations previously reported in flying-foxes in mainland Australia. Glucosuria and proteinuria were identified in two Christmas Island flying-foxes, suggestive of renal dysfunction. In one aged flying-fox, kidney cadmium concentrations were four-fold higher than toxic thresholds reported for domestic mammals. Microscopic evaluation of this individual identified bone lesions consistent with those described in laboratory animals with chronic cadmium poisoning. These results suggest that Christmas Island flying-foxes are being exposed to cadmium and identification of these sources is recommended as a focus of future research. Unexpectedly, urine iron concentrations in Christmas Island flying-foxes were higher compared to previous studies of Australian mainland flying-foxes, which suggests that urinary excretion of iron may be an important aspect of iron homeostasis in this species whose diet is iron rich.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number144374
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Apr 20 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Cadmium
  • Christmas Island flying-fox
  • Fur
  • Iron
  • Urine
  • Wildlife ecotoxicology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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