Mercury bioaccumulation and trophic transfer in the terrestrial food web of a montane forest

Abstract

We investigated mercury (Hg) concentrations in a terrestrial food web in high elevation forests in Vermont. Hg concentrations increased from autotrophic organisms to herbivores < detritivores < omnivores < carnivores. Within the carnivores studied, raptors had higher blood Hg concentrations than their songbird prey. The Hg concentration in the blood of the focal study species, Bicknell’s thrush (Catharus bicknelli), varied over the course of the summer in response to a diet shift related to changing availability of arthropod prey. The Bicknell’s thrush food web is more detrital-based (with higher Hg concentrations) in early summer and more foliage-based (with lower Hg concentrations) during late summer. There were significant year effects in different ecosystem compartments indicating a possible connection between atmospheric Hg deposition, detrital-layer Hg concentrations, arthropod Hg concentrations, and passerine blood Hg concentrations.

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Acknowledgments

We gratefully acknowledge funding support from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency through the University of Vermont for this study. Our ongoing avian research on Stratton Mountain was supported by the Stratton Mountain Resort, Thomas Marshall Foundation, Vermont Monitoring Cooperative, and friends of both the Vermont Center for Ecostudies and the Vermont Institute of Natural Science. We thank the many dedicated field biologists who assisted with collection of these data under frequently difficult conditions. We are grateful to Allan Strong for providing access to unpublished arthropod data from Stratton Mountain. We are indebted to staff of the Texas A&M Trace Element Research Laboratory for conducting all aspects of the mercury analyses. Jason Townsend provided constructive reviews of an early manuscript draft. We are grateful for additional constructive comments from David Evers and an anonymous reviewer.

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Correspondence to Christopher C. Rimmer.

Appendix

Appendix

See Table 2.

Table 2 Means, standard deviations, and ranges of Hg concentrations (μg/g) in leaf litter and biotic compartments sampled on Stratton Mountain, Vermont in June and July of 2004–2007

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Rimmer, C.C., Miller, E.K., McFarland, K.P. et al. Mercury bioaccumulation and trophic transfer in the terrestrial food web of a montane forest. Ecotoxicology 19, 697–709 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10646-009-0443-x

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Keywords

  • Mercury bioaccumulation
  • Food web
  • Catharus bicknelli
  • Montane forests