Biomagnification of Mercury in Aquatic Food Webs: A Worldwide Meta-Analysis Journal Articles uri icon

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  • The slope of the simple linear regression between log10 transformed mercury (Hg) concentration and stable nitrogen isotope values (δ(15)N), hereafter called trophic magnification slope (TMS), from several trophic levels in a food web can represent the overall degree of Hg biomagnification. We compiled data from 69 studies that determined total Hg (THg) or methyl Hg (MeHg) TMS values in 205 aquatic food webs worldwide. Hg TMS values were compared against physicochemical and biological factors hypothesized to affect Hg biomagnification in aquatic systems. Food webs ranged across 1.7 ± 0.7 (mean ± SD) and 1.8 ± 0.8 trophic levels (calculated using δ(15)N from baseline to top predator) for THg and MeHg, respectively. The average trophic level (based on δ(15)N) of the upper-trophic-level organisms in the food web was 3.7 ± 0.8 and 3.8 ± 0.8 for THg and MeHg food webs, respectively. For MeHg, the mean TMS value was 0.24 ± 0.08 but varied from 0.08 to 0.53 and was, on average, 1.5 times higher than that for THg with a mean of 0.16 ± 0.11 (range: -0.19 to 0.48). Both THg and MeHg TMS values were significantly and positively correlated with latitude. TMS values in freshwater sites increased with dissolved organic carbon and decreased with total phosphorus and atmospheric Hg deposition. Results suggest that Hg biomagnification through food webs is highest in cold and low productivity systems; however, much of the among-system variability in TMS values remains unexplained. We identify critical data gaps and provide recommendations for future studies that would improve our understanding of global Hg biomagnification.


  • Lavoie, Raphael A
  • Jardine, Timothy D
  • Chumchal, Matthew M
  • Kidd, Karen
  • Campbell, Linda M

publication date

  • December 3, 2013