, Volume 20, Issue 7, pp 1520-1529
Date: 07 Jul 2011

Assessment of mercury bioaccumulation within the pelagic food web of lakes in the western Great Lakes region

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While mercury is a health hazard to humans and wildlife, the biogeochemical processes responsible for its bioaccumulation in pelagic food webs are still being examined. Previous studies have indicated both “bottom-up” control of piscivorous fish Hg content through methylmercury.(MeHg) supply, as well as site-specific trophic factors. We evaluated ten studies from the western Great Lakes region to examine the similarity of MeHg trophic transfer efficiency within the pelagic food web, and assessed regional-scale spatial variability. Analyses of bioaccumulation and biomagnification factors between water, seston, zooplankton, and preyfish indicated that the largest increases in MeHg occurred at the base of the food web, and that the relative extent of trophic transfer was similar between sites. Positive correlations were observed between aqueous unfiltered MeHg, total Hg, and dissolved organic carbon, and measures of the efficiency of MeHg trophic transfer were consistent across widely disparate systems (both natural and experimentally manipulated) throughout North America. Such similarity suggests that the aqueous supply of MeHg is largely controlling bioaccumulation in pelagic food webs, while local, lake-specific variability can result from an array of trophic (biological) factors.