, Volume 40, Issue 2-3, pp 327-345

Methylmercury concentrations and production rates across a trophic gradient in the northern Everglades

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Abstract

Methylmercury (MeHg) concentrations and production rates were examined along with sulfur biogeochemistry in Everglades sediments in March, July and December, 1995, as part of a large, multi-investigator study, the Aquatic Cycling of Mercury in the Everglades (ACME) project. The sites examined constitute a trophic gradient, generated from agricultural runoff, across the Everglades Nutrient Removal (ENR) Area, which is a re-constructed wetland, and Water Conservation Areas (WCA) 2A, 2B and 3 in the northern Everglades. MeHg concentrations and %MeHg (MeHg as a percent of total Hg) were lowest in the more eutrophic areas and highest in the more pristine areas in the south. MeHg concentrations ranged from <0.1 ng gdw-1 sediment in the ENR to 5 ng gdw-1 in WCA3 sediments; and MeHg constituted <0.2% of total Hg (HgT) in ENR, but up to about 2% in two sites in WCA2B and WCA3. Methylation rates in surficial sediments, estimated using tracer-level injections of203 Hg(II) into intact sediment cores, ranged from 0 to 0.12 d-1, or about 1 to 10 ng g-1 d-1when the per day values are multiplied by the ambient total Hg concentration. Methylation was generally maximal at or within centimeters of the sediment surface, and was never observed in water overlying cores. The spatial pattern of MeHg production generally matched that of MeHg concentration. The coincident distributions of MeHg and its production suggest that in situ production controls concentration, and that MeHg concentration can be used as an analog for MeHg production. In addition, the spatial pattern of MeHg in Everglades sediments matches that in biota, suggesting that MeHg bioaccumulation may be predominantly a function of the de novo methylation rate in surficial sediments.

Sulfate concentrations in surficial pore waters (up to 400 µm), microbial sulfate-reduction rates (up to 800 nm cc-1 d-1) and resultant pore water sulfide concentrations (up to 300 µm) at the eutrophic northern sites were all high relative to most freshwater systems. All declined to the south, and sulfate concentrations in WCA2B and in central WCA3 resembled those in oligotrophic lakes (50–100 µm). MeHg concentration and production were inversely related to sulfate reduction rate and pore water sulfide. Control of MeHg production in the northern Everglades appears to mimic that in an estuary, where sulfate concentrations are high and where sulfide produced by microbial sulfate reduction inhibits MeHg production.