Changes in Sport Fish Mercury Concentrations from Food Web Shifts Suggest Partial Decoupling from Atmospheric Deposition in Two Colorado Reservoirs
Partial decoupling of mercury (Hg) loading and observed Hg concentrations ([Hg]) in biotic and abiotic samples has been documented in aquatic systems. We studied two Colorado reservoirs to test whether shifts in prey for sport fish would lead to changes in [Hg] independent of external atmospheric Hg deposition. We compared sport fish total mercury concentrations ([T-Hg]) and macroinvertebrate (chironomids and crayfish) methylmercury concentrations ([MeHg]) before and after food web shifts occurred in both reservoirs. We also monitored wet atmospheric Hg deposition and sediment [T-Hg] and [MeHg] at each reservoir. We found rapid shifts in Hg bioaccumulation in each reservoir’s sport fish, and these changes could not be attributed to atmospheric Hg deposition. Our study shows that trends in atmospheric deposition, environmental samples (e.g., sediments), and samples of species at the low trophic levels (e.g., chironomids and crayfish) may not accurately reflect conditions that result in fish consumption advisories for high trophic level sport fish. We suggest that in the short-term, monitoring fish [Hg] is necessary to adequately protect human health because natural and anthropogenic perturbations to aquatic food-webs that affect [Hg] in sport fish will continue regardless of trends in atmospheric deposition.