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Reproductive impairment in the Florida panther: nature or nurture?

  • C F Facemire
  • T S Gross
  • L J Guillette
Publication Date
May 01, 1995
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • Geography
  • Medicine


Many of the remaining members of the endangered Florida panther (Felis concolor coryi) population suffer from one or more of a variety of physiological, reproductive, endocrine, and immune system defects including congenital heart defects, abnormal sperm, low sperm density, cryptorchidism, thyroid dysfunction, and possible immunosuppression. Mercury contamination, determined to be the cause of death of a female panther in 1989, was presented as the likely cause of thyroid dysfunction. As genetic diversity in the species was less than expected, all of the other abnormalities have been attributed to inbreeding. However, exposure to a variety of chemical compounds, especially those that have been identified as environmental endocrine disrupters (including mercury, p,p'-DDE, and polychlorinated biphenyls), has elicited all of the listed abnormalities in other species. A number of these contaminants are present in South Florida. An exposure pathway has been identified, and evidence presented in this paper, including the fact that there appears to be no significant difference between serum estradiol levels in males and females, suggests that many male panthers may have been demasculinized and feminized as a result of either prenatal or postnatal exposure. Thus, regardless of the effects of inbreeding, current evidence seems to indicate that environmental contaminants may be a major factor contributing to reproductive impairment in the Florida panther population.

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