Variation in Terrestrial and Aquatic Sources of Methylmercury in Stream Predators as Revealed by Stable Mercury Isotopes

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Martin Tsz-Ki Tsui, Assistant Professor (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
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Abstract: Mercury (Hg) is widely distributed in the environment, and its organic form, methylmercury (MeHg), can extensively bioaccumulate and biomagnify in aquatic and terrestrial food webs. Concentrations of MeHg in organisms are highly variable, and the sources in natural food webs are often not well understood. This study examined stable isotope ratios of MeHg (mass-dependent fractionation, as d202HgMeHg; and mass-independent fractionation, as ?199HgMeHg) in benthic invertebrates, juvenile steelhead trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), and water striders (Gerris remigis) along a stream productivity gradient, as well as carnivorous terrestrial invertebrates, in a forested watershed at the headwater of South Fork Eel River in northern California. Throughout the sampling sites, d202HgMeHg (after correction due to the effect of MeHg photodegradation) was significantly different between benthic (median = -1.40‰; range, -2.34 to -0.78‰; total number of samples = 29) and terrestrial invertebrates (median = +0.51‰; range, -0.37 to +1.40‰; total number of samples = 9), but no major difference between these two groups was found for ?199HgMeHg. Steelhead trout (52 individual fishes) have MeHg of predominantly aquatic origins, with a few exceptions at the upstream locations (e.g., 1 fish collected in a tributary had a purely terrestrial MeHg source and 4 fishes had mixed aquatic and terrestrial MeHg sources). Water striders (seven pooled samples) derive MeHg largely from terrestrial sources throughout headwater sections. These data suggest that direct terrestrial subsidy (e.g., terrestrial invertebrates falling into water) can be important for some stream predators in headwater streams and could represent an important means of transfer of terrestrially derived MeHg (e.g., in situ methylation within forests, atmospheric sources) to aquatic ecosystems. Moreover, these findings show that terrestrial subsidies can enhance MeHg bioaccumulation of consumers in headwater streams where aqueous MeHg levels are very low.

Additional Information

Environmental Science and Technology, 48(2), 10128-10135
Language: English
Date: 2014
Mercury, methylmercury, bioaccumulation, Steelhead trout, water striders

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