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Mercury Bioaccumulation in Lacustrine Fish Populations Along a Climatic Gradient in Northern Ontario, Canada

  • A. W. Sumner
  • T. A. JohnstonEmail author
  • G. L. Lescord
  • B. A. Branfireun
  • J. M. Gunn


Climate change is predicted to alter many processes in boreal aquatic ecosystems, including mercury (Hg) bioaccumulation in fish. We investigated current patterns in fish Hg across a climatic gradient in northern Ontario, Canada, to assess the possible influence of further climate change. Cohabiting populations of walleye (a piscivore) and white sucker (a benthivore) were sampled from lakes spanning over 9.0° of latitude (45° 24′ N–54° 20′ N). Latitudinal trends were evident in climatic conditions, as well as several other ecosystem characteristics over this range. Muscle total Hg concentration ([THg]) was modelled with respect to climatic variables as well as other physical, chemical, and biological variables, and all models were ranked by Akaike information criterion. Neither long-term mean temperature nor precipitation was a strong predictor of current muscle [THg] in either species across this region. Instead, drainage basin characteristics (for example, mean slope) and lake water chemistry (for example, [DOC], [SO4]) were the strongest predictors, followed by fish biological traits (for example, muscle δ13C). Walleye [THg] was more strongly related to water chemistry, and white sucker [THg] was more strongly related to drainage basin physical characteristics. For both species, muscle [THg] showed unimodal relationships with several predictors (for example, latitude, [SO4], [DOC]), peaking in their mid-ranges. Fish [THg] is not strongly associated with current climatic conditions across northern Ontario but may be influenced by climate change in future through indirect effects on water chemistry and food web structure.


freshwater limnology climate contaminants landscape latitude 



We thank Kelsey Bender, Graham Burrows, Jennifer Cole, Andrew Corston, Michelle Gillespie, Lee Haslam, and Ashley Stasko for field and laboratory support, and Jocelyne Heneberry and Emily Smenderovac for assistance with data analysis. Water chemistry analyses and data were provided by the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change. We are grateful to the staff of the Biotron Centre for Climate Change Research at Western University for analytical and training support for Hg analyses. Funding and in-kind support for this research were generously provided by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Strategic Networks Program and Discovery Grants Program, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the W. Garfield Weston Foundation, the Northern Scientific Training Program (NSTP), and the Fisheries and Oceans Canada Habitat and Restoration Scholarship. Constructive criticisms on earlier drafts of this work were provided by Nelson Belzile, Rob Mackereth, Stephanie Melles, Heidi Swanson, and four anonymous reviewers.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Cooperative Freshwater Ecology Unit, Biology Department, Vale Living with Lakes CentreLaurentian UniversitySudburyCanada
  2. 2.Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, Cooperative Freshwater Ecology Unit, Vale Living with Lakes CentreLaurentian UniversitySudburyCanada
  3. 3.Department of Biology and Centre for Environment and SustainabilityWestern UniversityLondonCanada

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