Effects of forest management on mercury bioaccumulation and biomagnification along the river continuum Academic Article uri icon

  • Overview
  • Research
  • Identity
  • Additional Document Info
  • View All


  • Forest management can alter the mobilization of mercury (Hg) into headwater streams and its conversion to methylmercury (MeHg), the form that bioaccumulates in aquatic biota and biomagnifies through food webs. As headwater streams are important sources of organic materials and nutrients to larger systems, this connectivity may also increase MeHg in downstream biota through direct or indirect effects of forestry on water quality or food web structure. In this study, we collected water, seston, food sources (biofilm, leaves, organic matter), five macroinvertebrate taxa and fish (slimy sculpin; Cottus cognata) at 6 sites representing different stream orders (1-5) within three river basins with different total disturbances from forestry (both harvesting and silviculture). Methylmercury levels were highest in water and some food sources from the basin with moderate disturbance (greater clearcutting but less silviculture). Water, leaves, stoneflies and fish increased in MeHg or total Hg along the river continuum in the least disturbed basin, and there were some dissipative effects of forest management on these spatial patterns. Trophic level (δ15N) was a significant predictor of MeHg (and total Hg in fish) within food webs across all 18 sites, and biomagnification slopes were significantly lower in the basin with moderate total disturbance but not different in the other two basins. The elevated MeHg in lower trophic levels but its reduced trophic transfer in the basin with moderate disturbance was likely due to greater inputs of sediments and of dissolved organic carbon that is more humic, as these factors are known to both increase transport of Hg to streams and its uptake in primary producers but to also decrease MeHg bioaccumulation in consumers. Overall, these results suggest that the type of disturbance from forestry affects MeHg bioaccumulation and trophic transfer in stream food webs and some longitudinal patterns along a river continuum.


  • Negrazis, Lauren
  • Kidd, Karen
  • Erdozain, Maitane
  • Emilson, Erik JS
  • Mitchell, Carl PJ
  • Gray, Michelle A

publication date

  • October 2022