Using sulfur stable isotopes to assess mercury bioaccumulation and biomagnification in temperate lake food webs Academic Article uri icon

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  • Nitrogen and carbon stable isotopes (δ15 N, δ13 C) are commonly used to understand mercury (Hg) bioaccumulation and biomagnification in freshwater food webs. Though sulfur isotopes (δ34 S) can distinguish between energy sources from the water column (aqueous sulfate) and from sediments to freshwater organisms, little is known about whether δ34 S can help interpret variable Hg concentrations in aquatic species or food webs. Seven acidic lakes in Kejimkujik National Park (Nova Scotia, Canada) were sampled for biota, water, and sediments in 2009 and 2010. Fishes, zooplankton, and macroinvertebrates were analyzed for δ34 S, δ15 N, δ13 C, and Hg (methyl Hg in invertebrates, total Hg in fishes); aqueous sulfate and profundal sediments were analyzed for δ34 S. Within lakes, mean δ34 S values in sediments and sulfate differed between 0.53‰ and 1.98‰, limiting their use as tracers of energy sources to the food webs. However, log-Hg and δ34 S values were negatively related (slopes -0.14 to -0.35, R2 0.20-0.39, p < 0.001-0.01) through each food web, and slopes were significantly different among lakes (analysis of covariance, lake × δ34 S interaction term p = 0.04). Despite these relationships, multiple regression analyses within each taxon showed that biotic Hg concentrations were generally better predicted by δ15 N and/or δ13 C. The results indicate that δ34 S values are predictive of Hg concentrations in these food webs, although the mechanisms underlying these relationships warrant further study. Environ Toxicol Chem 2017;36:661-670. © 2016 SETAC.


  • Clayden, Meredith G
  • Lescord, Gretchen L
  • Kidd, Karen
  • Wang, Xiaowa
  • Muir, Derek CG
  • O'Driscoll, Nelson J

publication date

  • March 2017