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Bioaccumulation and Trophic Transfer of Methylmercury in Long Island Sound

Abstract

Humans are exposed to methylmercury (MeHg) principally by consumption of marine fish. The coastal zone supports the majority of marine fish production, and may therefore be an important source of MeHg to humans; however, little is known about the bioaccumulation of MeHg in near-shore marine ecosystems. We examined MeHg in microseston, zooplankton, a decapod crustacean, and four representative species of finfish that differ in trophic status and/or prey selection in Long Island Sound (LIS), a large coastal embayment in the northeastern United States. MeHg biomagnifies in LIS; levels in microseston were 104.2 greater than those in water and 2.3-fold less than zooplankton. MeHg concentrations were related positively to fish length for each species, but often varied considerably among larger individuals. This may be due to differences in the past dietary MeHg exposure of these fish, some of which are migratory. Sedimentary production and mobilization can account for most of the MeHg in microseston of LIS, and by extension, other near-shore locations. Hence, much of the MeHg in higher trophic levels of coastal marine ecosystems, including fishes destined for human consumption, may be attributed to net sedimentary production and dietary bioaccumulation.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Deb Pacileo, Kurt Gottschall, Penny Howell, Paul Stacey, Larissa Graham, lobsterman D. J. King, the captain and crew of the R/V John Dempsey, and the CTDEP for help with fish and lobster sampling. Kurt Gottschall and Deb Pacileo provided age data for the tautog. Sheean Haley and Amy Smith assisted with sampling and identification of zooplankton, and Prentiss Balcom and Grace Vandal helped with measurements of MeHg in dissolved and SPM water fractions. We are grateful to two anonymous reviewers for providing helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. This study was supported by a STAR grant (R827635) and graduate student fellowship (U91591801) from the U.S. EPA, and the Postdoctoral Scholar Program at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, with funding provided by the Doherty Foundation. The work, however, does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. EPA or CTDEP, and no official endorsement should be inferred.

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Correspondence to Chad R. Hammerschmidt.

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Hammerschmidt, C.R., Fitzgerald, W.F. Bioaccumulation and Trophic Transfer of Methylmercury in Long Island Sound. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol 51, 416–424 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00244-005-0265-7

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Keywords

  • Bioaccumulation
  • MeHg Concentration
  • Trophic Transfer
  • Axial Muscle
  • American Lobster