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Temporal trends in fish mercury concentrations in an Adirondack Lake managed with a continual predator removal program

Abstract

Mercury is a neurotoxic pollutant and contamination in remote ecosystems due to atmospheric mercury deposition coupled with watershed characteristics that influence mercury bioavailability. Biological interactions that affect mercury bioaccumulation are especially relevant as fish assemblages change in response to species introductions and lake management practices. We studied the influence of shifting food web dynamics on mercury in fisheries of Little Moose Lake in the southwestern Adirondack Mountains of New York, USA. Annual removal of non-native Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieu) has been used as a management strategy since 2000 to restore the native fish assemblage and food web in favor of Lake Trout (Salvelinus namaycush). Changes in total mercury, stable carbon (13C/12C) and nitrogen (15N/14N) isotopes, and growth were evaluated for Lake Trout and Smallmouth Bass. Growth rates increased for both predators and trophic position increased for Lake Trout post-removal. Mercury concentrations in Lake Trout increased over the 16-year study period influenced by a diet shift from invertebrates to higher trophic level prey fish, regardless of increased growth. Smallmouth Bass mercury concentrations decreased with compensatory growth from a reduced population size. These contrasting trends indicate that changes in mercury deposition were not the primary driver for mercury bioaccumulation responses in Little Moose Lake. Stable isotope values changed for both predators and for several lower trophic level organisms, likely reflecting changes in nutrient cycling and/or inputs. Our findings emphasize the potential role of fisheries management on whole-lake and predatory fish responses to mercury contamination in temperate lakes.

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported by the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority. We appreciate our colleagues at Syracuse University especially the Center for Environmental Systems Engineering Laboratory Manager, M. Montesdeoca as well as A. Shaw, S. Boucher, G. Millard, J. Gerson, N. Glick, N. LoRusso, T. Wang and M. Persson for their help with field and laboratory work. Thanks to E. Randall and B. Marcy-Quay at Cornell University for facilitating field work, providing data and valuable insights to this research. We also appreciate comments and feedback provided by reviewers on a previous version of this manuscript.

Funding

This study was funded by New York State Energy Research and Development Authority contract #34357.

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Correspondence to Charles T. Driscoll.

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Taylor, M.S., Driscoll, C.T., Lepak, J.M. et al. Temporal trends in fish mercury concentrations in an Adirondack Lake managed with a continual predator removal program. Ecotoxicology (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10646-019-02156-5

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Keywords

  • Adirondacks
  • Food webs
  • Mercury bioaccumulation
  • Smallmouth Bass
  • Lake Trout