University Of Tasmania

File(s) under permanent embargo

Heavy metal wombats? Metal exposure pathways to bare-nosed wombats (Vombatus ursinus) living on remediated tin mine tailings

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-21, 07:37 authored by Beth PenroseBeth Penrose, MacIntosh, AE, Anita Parbhakar-Fox, Smith, LBE, Sawyer, T, D'Agnese, E, Scott CarverScott Carver
Rehabilitation of disused mine sites through stabilisation and botanical restoration is ecologically important, but metal transfer pathways to colonising wildlife are often less understood and have never been studied in marsupials. The rehabilitated Royal George tin mine tailings (Tasmania, Australia) and colonisation by bare-nosed wombats (Vombatus ursinus) represented an opportunity to examine potential metal transfer from mine tailings to an herbivorous marsupial. The aim of this study was to examine metal transfer pathways from the mine tailings to wombats, and to determine if wombats are at risk from metal exposure. Concentrations of metals were measured in the tailings substrate, surface water and vegetation, as well as fur samples from a resident wombat, and non-resident (control) wombats. The mineralogy of the tailings is dominated by quartz, muscovite, feldspars, topaz, kaolinite and calcite. Concentrations of several metals were high (exceeding varying health standards) in the tailings (As, Cu, Hg, Pb, Ni, Zn), water (As, Cd, Cu, Zn) and vegetation (As, Cd, Cu, Pb, Mn, Zn). Relative to non-resident wombats, elevated levels of As, Cd, Cu, Pb and Sn were measured in the fur of a resident wombat. Based on modelling of the exposure pathways, consumption of plant material is the most likely metal transfer pathway for As, Cu and Pb, although the risks from ingestion of tailings to this fossorial marsupial should not be discounted. This study is the first to investigate metal exposure pathways to marsupials using rehabilitated mine tailings. Further research is needed to accurately quantify ecological risks and toxicity for wombats and other marsupials native to mining landscapes.


Department of State Growth (Tas)


Publication title

Science of the Total Environment



Article number









Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA)


Elsevier Science Bv

Place of publication

Po Box 211, Amsterdam, Netherlands, 1000 Ae

Rights statement

Copyright (2022) Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Rehabilitation or conservation of terrestrial environments