Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Diurnal variability and biogeochemical reactivity of mercury species in an extreme high-altitude lake ecosystem of the Bolivian Altiplano

  • 288 Accesses

  • 7 Citations


Methylation and demethylation represent major transformation pathways regulating the net production of methylmercury (MMHg). Very few studies have documented Hg reactivity and transformation in extreme high-altitude lake ecosystems. Mercury (Hg) species concentrations (IHg, MMHg, Hg°, and DMHg) and in situ Hg methylation (M) and MMHg demethylation (D) potentials were determined in water, sediment, floating organic aggregates, and periphyton compartments of a shallow productive Lake of the Bolivian Altiplano (Uru Uru Lake, 3686 m). Samples were collected during late dry season (October 2010) and late wet season (May 2011) at a north (NS) and a south (SS) site of the lake, respectively. Mercury species concentrations exhibited significant diurnal variability as influenced by the strong diurnal biogeochemical gradients. Particularly high methylated mercury concentrations (0.2 to 4.5 ng L−1 for MMHgT) were determined in the water column evidencing important Hg methylation in this ecosystem. Methylation and D potentials range were, respectively, <0.1–16.5 and <0.2–68.3 % day−1 and were highly variable among compartments of the lake, but always higher during the dry season. Net Hg M indicates that the influence of urban and mining effluent (NS) promotes MMHg production in both water (up to 0.45 ng MMHg L−1 day−1) and sediment compartments (2.0 to 19.7 ng MMHg g−1 day−1). While the sediment compartment appears to represent a major source of MMHg in this shallow ecosystem, floating organic aggregates (dry season, SS) and Totora’s periphyton (wet season, NS) were found to act as a significant source (5.8 ng MMHg g−1 day−1) and a sink (−2.1 ng MMHg g−1 day−1) of MMHg, respectively. This work demonstrates that high-altitude productive lake ecosystems can promote MMHg formation in various compartments supporting recent observations of high Hg contents in fish and water birds.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7


  1. Acha D, Hintelmann H, Pabon CA, Iñiguez V, Roulet M, Guimaraes JRD, Luna R, Alanoca L, Sanchez S (2005) Sulfate-reducing bacteria in floating macrophyte rhizosphere from an Amazonian flood plain lake in Bolivia and their association with Hg methylation. Appl Environ Microbiol 71(11):7531–7535

  2. Acha D, Pabon CA, Hintelmann H (2012) Mercury methylation and hydrogen sulfide production among unexpected strains isolated from periphyton of two macrophytes of the Amazon. FEMS Microbiol Ecol 80:637–645

  3. Aguirre M, Lazzaro X, Point D, Pouilly M (2014) Línea base de conocimientos sobre los recursos hidrológicos en el sistema TDPS con enfoque en la cuenca del Lago Titicaca. IRD - UICN, Quito, Ecuador, p 320

  4. Allen JW, Shanker G, Tan KH, Aschner M (2002) The consequences of methylmercury exposure on interactive functions between astrocytes and neurons. Neurotoxicology 23:755–759

  5. Amyot MS, Mierle G, Lean D, McQueen DJ (1997) Effect of solar radiation on the formation of dissolved gaseous mercury in temperate lakes. Geochim Cosmochim Acta 61:975–987

  6. Arcagni M, Campbell L, Arribére MA, Marvin-DiPasquale M, Rizzo A, Ribeiro GS (2013) Differential mercury transfer in the aquatic food web of a double basined lake associated with selenium and habitat. Sci Total Environ 454–455:170–180

  7. Baldi F, Parati F, Filippelli M, Electric Power Research Institute PACAUS, Environment C, Atmospheric Environment Service C et al (1995) Dimethylmercury and dimethylmercury-sulfide of microbial origin in the biogeochemical cycle of Hg (English). In: Mercury as a global pollutant. International conference (English), vol 80. Springer, Dordrecht, pp 805–815

  8. Barkay T, Wagner‐Döbler I (2005) Microbial transformations of mercury: potentials, challenges, and achievements in controlling mercury toxicity in the environment. Adv Appl Microbiol 57:1–52

  9. Black FJ, Poulin BA, Flegal AR (2012) Factors controlling the abiotic photo-degradation of monomethylmercury in surface waters. Geochim Cosmochim Acta 84:492–507

  10. Blumthaler M, Ambach W, Ellinger R (1997) Regular paper: increase in solar UV radiation with altitude. J Photochem Photobiol B Biol 39:130–134

  11. Bouchet S, Tessier E, Monperrus M, Bridou R, Clavier J, Thouzeau G et al (2011) Measurements of gaseous mercury exchanges at the sediment-water, water-atmosphere and sediment-atmosphere interfaces of a tidal environment (Arcachon Bay, France). J Environ Monit: JEM 13:1351–1359

  12. Bouchet S, Amouroux D, Rodriguez-Gonzalez P, Tessier E, Monperrus M, Thouzeau G et al (2013) MMHg production and export from intertidal sediments to the water column of a tidal lagoon (Arcachon Bay, France). Biogeochemistry 114:341–358

  13. Coelho-Souza SA, Guimarães JRD, Mauro JBN (2006) Mercury methylation and bacterial activity associated to tropical phytoplankton. Sci Total Environ 364:188–199

  14. Compeau G, Bartha R (1984) Methylation and demethylation of mercury under controlled redox, pH and salinity conditions. Appl Environ Microbiol 48:1203–1207

  15. Correia RRS, Miranda MR, Guimaraes JRD (2012) Mercury methylation and the microbial consortium in periphyton of tropical macrophytes: effect of different inhibitors. Environ Res 112:86–91

  16. Craig PJ, Morton SF (1978) Kinetics and mechanism of the reaction between methylcobalamin and mercuric chloride. J Organomet Chem 145:79–89

  17. Eckley CS, Hintelmann H (2006) Determination of mercury methylation potentials in the water column of lakes across Canada. Sci Total Environ 368:111–125

  18. Fitzgerald WF, Clarkson TW (1991) Mercury and monomethylmercury—present and future concerns. Environ Health Perspect 96:159–166

  19. Fitzgerald WF, Lamborg CH (2004) Geochemistry of mercury in the environment treatise on geochemistry, vol 9. Elsevier, Oxford

  20. Garcia ME (2006) Transport of arsenic and heavy metals to Lake Poopó–Bolivia Natural Leakage and Antropogenic Effects Department of Water Resource Engineering Lund Institute of Technology. Doctoral Thesis. Lund, Sweden

  21. Gentès S, Monperrus M, Legeay A, Maury-Brachet R, Davail S, André J-M et al (2013) Incidence of invasive macrophytes on methylmercury budget in temperate lakes: central role of bacterial periphytic communities. Environ Pollut 172:116–123

  22. Guimarães JRD, Malm O, Padovani C, Sanches M, Forsberg B, Pfeiffer WC (1994) A summary of data on net mercury methylation rates in sediment, water, soil and other samples from the Amazon region obtained through radiochemical methods. Proceedings of the international workshop on environmental mercury pollution and its health effects in Amazon River Basin, Rio de Janeiro, p 94-99

  23. Guimarães JRD, Meili M, de Souza Brito EM (1998) Hg methylation in sediments and floating meadows of a tropical lake in the Pantanal floodplain, Brazil. Sci Total Environ 213:165–175

  24. Guimaraes JRD, Fostier A-H, Forti MC, Melfi JA, Kehrig H, Mauro JBN et al (1999) Mercury in human environmental samples from two lakes in Amapa, Brazilian Amazon. Ambio 28:296–301

  25. Guimarães JRD, Meili M, Hylander LD, EdCe S, Roulet M, Mauro JBN et al (2000) Mercury net methylation in five tropical flood plain regions of Brazil: high in the root zone of floating macrophyte mats but low in surface sediments and flooded soils. Sci Total Environ 261:99–107

  26. Hammerschmidt CR, Fitzgerald WF (2006) Photodecomposition of methylmercury in an Arctic Alaskan Lake (English). Environ Sci Technol 40:1212–1216

  27. Hintelmann H (2010) Organomercurials. Their formation and pathways in the environment. Met Ions Life Sci 7:365–401

  28. Hollweg TA, Gilmour CC, Mason RP (2009) Methylmercury production in sediments of Chesapeake Bay and the mid-Atlantic continental margin. Mar Chem 114:86–101

  29. Kirk JL, Louis VLS, Hintelmann H, Lehnherr I, Else B, Poissant L (2008) Methylated mercury species in marine waters of the Canadian high and sub arctic (English). Environ Sci Technol 42:8367–8373

  30. Lalonde JD, Amyot M, Kraepiel AML, Morel FMM (2001) Photooxidation of Hg(0) in artificial and natural waters (English). Environ Sci Technol 35:1367–1372

  31. Lanza WG, Acha D, Point D, Masbou J, Alanoca L, Amouroux D, et al (2015) Association of a specific algal group to methylmercury accumulation in periphyton of a tropical high-altitude Andean Lake. 2015; submitted

  32. Lehnherr I, St. Louis VL (2009) Importance of ultraviolet radiation in the photodemethylation of methylmercury in freshwater ecosystems (English). Environ Sci Technol 43:5692–5698

  33. Lemos RA, Guimarães JRD, Bianchini JI (1999) Mercury methylation in Eichhorniaazurea roots and sediments during a seasonal cycle in a Brazilian lake. Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on Hg as a Global Pollutant, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, p 462

  34. Marusczak N, Larose C, Dommergue A, Paquet S, Beaulne J-S, Maury-Brachet R et al (2011) Mercury and methylmercury concentrations in high altitude lakes and fish (Arctic charr) from the French Alps related to watershed characteristics. Sci Total Environ 409:1909–1915

  35. Mason RP, Lawson NM, Sheu GR (2001) Mercury in the Atlantic Ocean: factors controlling air-sea exchange of mercury and its distribution in the upper waters. Deep-Sea Res II Top Stud Oceanogr 48:2829–2853

  36. Maurice-Bourgoin L, Quiroga I, Chincheros J, Courau P (2000) Mercury distribution in waters and fishes of the upper Madeira rivers and mercury exposure in riparian Amazonian populations. Sci Total Environ 260:73–86

  37. Mauro JBN, Guimarães JRD, Hintelmann H, Watras CJ, Haack EA, Coelho-Souza SA (2002) Mercury methylation in macrophytes, periphyton, and water-comparative studies with stable and radio-mercury additions. Anal Bioanal Chem 374:983–989

  38. Molina CI, Ibañez C, Gibon FM (2012) Proceso de biomagnificación de metales pesados en un lago hiperhalino (Poopó, Oruro, Bolivia): Posible riesgo en la salud de consumidores. Ecología en Bolivia [online] 47:99–118

  39. Monperrus M, Tessier E, Veschambre S, Amouroux D, Donard O (2005) Simultaneous speciation of mercury and butyltin compounds in natural waters and snow by propylation and species-specific isotope dilution mass spectrometry analysis. Anal Bioanal Chem 381:854–862

  40. Monperrus M, Tessier E, Amouroux D, Leynaert A, Huonnic P, Donard OFX (2007) Mercury methylation, demethylation and reduction rates in coastal and marine surface waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Mar Chem 107:49–63

  41. Monperrus M, Gonzalez PR, Amouroux D, Garcia Alonso JI, Donard OFX (2008) Evaluating the potential and limitations of double-spiking species-specific isotope dilution analysis for the accurate quantification of mercury species in different environmental matrices. Anal Bioanal Chem 390:655–666

  42. Oremland RS, Culbertson CW, Winfrey MR (1991) Methylmercury decomposition in sediments and bacterial cultures: involvement of methanogens and sulfate reducers in oxidative demethylation (English). Appl Environ Microbiol (Print) 57:130–137

  43. Point D, Monperrus M, Tessier E, Amouroux D, Chauvaud L, Thouzeau G et al (2007) Biological control of trace metal and organometal benthic fluxes in a eutrophic lagoon (Thau Lagoon, Mediterranean Sea, France). Estuar Coast Shelf Sci 72:457–471

  44. Qianggong Z, Ke P, Shichang K, Aijia Z, Wen-Xiong W (2014) Mercury in wild fish from high-altitude aquatic ecosystems in the Tibetan Plateau. Environ Sci Technol 48:5220–5228

  45. Ribeiro Guevara S, Queimaliños CP, Diéguez MC, Arribére M (2008) Methylmercury production in the water column of an ultraoligotrophic lake of Northern Patagonia, Argentina. Chemosphere 72:578–585

  46. Rodriguez-Gonzalez P, Bouchet S, Monperrus M, Tessier E, Amouroux D (2013) In situ experiments for element species-specific environmental reactivity of tin and mercury compounds using isotopic tracers and multiple linear regression. Environ Sci Pollut Res Int 20:1269–1280

  47. Schaefer JK, Jane Y, Reinfelder JR, Cardona T, Ellickson KM, Tel-Or S et al (2004) Role of the bacterial organomercury lyase (MerB) in controlling methylmercury accumulation in mercury-contaminated natural waters. Environ Sci Technol 38:4304–4311

  48. Sellers P, Kelly CA, Rudd JWM, MacHutchon AR (1996) Photodegradation of methylmercury in lakes. Nature [London] 380:694–697

  49. Sharif A, Monperrus M, Tessier E, Bouchet S, Pinaly H, Rodriguez-Gonzalez P et al (2014) Fate of mercury species in the coastal plume of the Adour River estuary (Bay of Biscay, SW France). Sci Total Environ 496:701–713

  50. Spangler WJ, Spigarelli JL, Rose JM, Flippin RS, Miller HH (1973) Degradation of methylmercury by bacteria isolated from environmental samples. Appl Microbiol 25:488–493

  51. Tapia J, Audry S, Townley B, Duprey JL (2012) Geochemical background, baseline and origin of contaminants from sediments in the mining-impacted Altiplano and Eastern Cordillera of Oruro, Bolivia. Geochem Explor Environ Anal 12:3–20

  52. Tseng CM, Lamborg C, Fitzgerald WF, Engstrom DR (2004) Cycling of dissolved elemental mercury in Arctic Alaskan lakes. Geochim Cosmochim Acta 68:1173–1184

  53. UNEP (2013) Global mercury assessment 2013: sources, emissions, releases and environmental transport 2013. UNEP Chemicals Branch, Geneva

  54. Wang S, Zhang M, Li B, Xing D, Wang X, Wei C et al (2012) Comparison of mercury speciation and distribution in the water column and sediments between the algal type zone and the macrophytic type zone in a hypereutrophic lake (Dianchi Lake) in southwestern China. Sci Total Environ 417–418:204–213

  55. Weber JH (1993) Review of possible paths for abiotic methylation of mercury(II) in the aquatic environment. Chemosphere 26:2063–2077

  56. Zaratti F, Forno RN, Garcia Fuentes J, Andrade MF (2003) Erythemally weighted UV variations at two high-altitude locations. J Geophys Res 108:ACH5-ACH1-6

Download references


This work is a contribution to the COMIBOL project (INSU CNRS/IRD EC2CO Program) and LAPACHAMAMA project (ANR CESA program, No. ANR-13-CESA-0015-01). We wish to thank J.L. Duprey, A. Castillo, M. Claure (IRD Bolivia), and Don German Calizaya (Fishermen Association, Machacamarca, Bolivia) for their help and assistance during the field campaigns.

Author information

Correspondence to D. Amouroux.

Additional information

Responsible editor: Philippe Garrigues

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.


(DOCX 83 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Alanoca, L., Amouroux, D., Monperrus, M. et al. Diurnal variability and biogeochemical reactivity of mercury species in an extreme high-altitude lake ecosystem of the Bolivian Altiplano. Environ Sci Pollut Res 23, 6919–6933 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-015-5917-1

Download citation


  • Mercury
  • Biogeochemistry
  • Altiplano
  • Lake
  • Methylation
  • Demethylation
  • Bolivia