Age, body size, growth and dietary habits: What are the key factors driving individual variability in mercury of lacustrine fishes in northern temperate lakes? Journal Articles uri icon

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  • Fish total mercury concentration ([THg]) has been linked to various fish attributes, but the relative importance of these attributes in accounting for among-individual variation in [THg] has not been thoroughly assessed. We compared the contributions of ontogeny (age, length), growth (growth rate, body condition), and food web position (δ13C, δ15N) to among-individual variability in [THg] within populations of seven common fishes from 141 north temperate lakes. Ontogenetic factors accounted for most variation in [THg]; age was a stronger and less variable predictor than length for most species. Adding both indices of growth and food web position to these models increased explained variation (R2) in [THg] by 6-25% among species. Fish [THg] at age increased with growth rate, while fish [THg] at length decreased with growth rate, and the effect of body condition was consistently negative. Trophic elevation (inferred from δ15N) was a stronger predictor than primary production source (inferred from δ13C) for piscivores but not benthivores. Fish [THg] increased with δ15N in all species but showed a more variable relationship with δ13C. Among-individual variation in [THg] is primarily related to age or size in most temperate freshwater fishes, and effects of growth rate and food web position need to be considered in the context of these ontogenetic drivers.


  • Johnston, Thomas A
  • Lescord, Gretchen L
  • Quesnel, Michelle
  • Savage, Pascale-Laure
  • Gunn, John M
  • Kidd, Karen

publication date

  • October 2022