Aquatic Sciences

, Volume 75, Issue 2, pp 261–273 | Cite as

Speciation leads to divergent methylmercury accumulation in sympatric whitefish

  • Nanina Blank
  • Alan G. Hudson
  • Pascal Vonlanthen
  • Ole Seehausen
  • Chad R. Hammerschmidt
  • David B. Senn
Research Article


Central European lake whitefish (Coregonus spp.) colonized Swiss lakes following the last glacial retreat and have undergone rapid speciation and adaptive radiation. Up to six species have been shown to coexist in some lakes, and individual species occupy specific ecological niches and have distinct feeding and reproductive ecologies. We studied methylmercury (MeHg) accumulation in sympatric whitefish species from seven Swiss lakes to determine if ecological divergence has led to different rates of MeHg bioaccumulation. In four of seven lakes, sympatric species had distinctly different MeHg levels, which varied by up to a factor of two between species. Generally, species with greater MeHg levels were smaller in body size and planktivorous, and species with lower MeHg were larger and benthivorous. While modest disparities in trophic position between species might be expected a priori to explain the divergence in MeHg, δ15N of bulk tissue did not correlate with fish MeHg in five of seven lakes. Results of a nested ANCOVA analysis across all lakes indicated that only two factors (species, lake) explained substantial portions of the variance, with species accounting for more variance (52 %) than inter-lake differences (32 %). We suggest that differences in MeHg accumulation were likely caused by diverging metabolic traits between species, such as differences in energy partitioning between anabolism and catabolism, potentially interacting with species-specific prey resource utilization. These results indicate substantial variability in MeHg accumulation between closely related fish species, illustrating that ecological speciation in fish can lead to divergent MeHg accumulation patterns.


Adaptive radiation Bioaccumulation Coregonus Methylmercury Speciation 



The authors extend their appreciation to J. Wiederhold, K. Barmettler, and R. Kretzchmar (ETH-Zurich) for providing access to Hg analysis instrumentation, to M. Coray and S. Bishop for assistance with stable isotope measurements, and to A. Drewek for statistical assistance. Funding for this project came from the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (BAFU).

Supplementary material

27_2012_271_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (63 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 76 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Basel AG 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nanina Blank
    • 1
    • 2
  • Alan G. Hudson
    • 2
    • 3
  • Pascal Vonlanthen
    • 2
    • 3
  • Ole Seehausen
    • 2
    • 3
  • Chad R. Hammerschmidt
    • 4
  • David B. Senn
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute of Biogeochemistry and Pollutant DynamicsZurichSwitzerland
  2. 2.Eawag, Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and TechnologyKastanienbaumSwitzerland
  3. 3.Institute of Ecology and EvolutionUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland
  4. 4.Department of Earth and Environmental SciencesWright State UniversityDaytonUSA

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