Methylmercury biomagnification in coastal aquatic food webs from western Patagonia and western Antarctic Peninsula
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Mercury (Hg) is a global pollutant of concern because its organic and more toxic form, methylHg (MeHg), bioaccumulates and biomagnifies through aquatic food webs to levels that affect the health of fish and fish consumers, including humans. Although much is known about trophic transfer of MeHg in aquatic food webs at temperate latitudes in the northern hemisphere, it is unclear whether its fate is similar in biota from coastal zones of the southeastern Pacific. To assess this gap, MeHg, total Hg and food web structure (using δ13C and δ15N) were measured in marine macroinvertebrates, fishes, birds, and mammals from Patagonian fjords and the Antarctic Peninsula. Trophic magnification slopes (TMS; log MeHg versus δ15N) for coastal food webs of Patagonia were high when compared with studies in the northern hemisphere, and significantly higher near freshwater inputs as compared to offshore sites (0.244 vs 0.192). Similarly, in Antarctica, the site closer to glacial inputs had a significantly higher TMS than the one in the Southern Shetland Islands (0.132 vs 0.073). Composition of the food web also had an influence, as the TMS increased when mammals and seabirds were excluded (0.132-0.221) at a coastal site. This study found that both the composition of the food web and the proximity to freshwater outflows are key factors influencing the TMS for MeHg in Patagonian and Antarctic food webs.
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