Mercury bioaccumulation and biomagnification in a small Arctic polynya ecosystem
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Recurring polynyas are important areas of biological productivity and feeding grounds for seabirds and mammals in the Arctic marine environment. In this study, we examined food web structure (using carbon and nitrogen isotopes, δ(13)C and δ(15)N) and mercury (Hg) bioaccumulation and biomagnification in a small recurring polynya ecosystem near Nasaruvaalik Island (Nunavut, Canada). Methyl Hg (MeHg) concentrations increased by more than 50-fold from copepods (Calanus hyperboreus) to Arctic terns (Sterna paradisaea), the abundant predators at this site. The biomagnification of MeHg through members of the food web - using the slope of log MeHg versus δ(15)N - was 0.157 from copepods (C. hyperboreus) to fish. This slope was higher (0.267) when seabird chicks were included in the analyses. Collectively, our results indicate that MeHg biomagnification is occurring in this small polynya and that its trophic transfer is at the lower end of the range of estimates from other Arctic marine ecosystems. In addition, we measured Hg concentrations in some poorly studied members of Arctic marine food webs [e.g. Arctic alligatorfish (Ulcina olrikii) and jellyfish, Medusozoa], and found that MeHg concentrations in jellyfish were lower than expected given their trophic position. Overall, these findings provide fundamental information about food web structure and mercury contamination in a small Arctic polynya, which will inform future research in such ecosystems and provide a baseline against which to assess changes over time resulting from environmental disturbance.
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