Mercury Biomagnification through Food Webs Is Affected by Physical and Chemical Characteristics of Lakes
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Mercury (Hg) contamination in aquatic systems remains a global concern because the organic form, methyl Hg (MeHg), can biomagnify to harmful concentrations in fish, fish-eating wildlife, and humans. Food web transfer of MeHg has been explored using models of log MeHg versus relative trophic position (nitrogen isotopes, δ(15)N), but regression slopes vary across systems for unknown reasons. In this study, MeHg biomagnification was determined for 11 lake food webs in Kejimkujik National Park, Nova Scotia, Canada, and compared to physical and chemical lake characteristics using principal component and multiple regression analyses. MeHg biomagnification (regression slopes of log MeHg versus baseline-adjusted δ(15)N for fishes and invertebrates) varied significantly across lakes and was higher in systems with lower aqueous nutrient/MeHg/chloride scores. This is one of the largest, consistent data sets available on MeHg biomagnification through temperate lake food webs and the first study to use a principal component and multiple regression approach to understand how lake chemical and physical characteristics interact to affect biomagnification among systems. Overall, our results show that the magnitude of MeHg biomagnification through lake food webs is related to the chemical and physical characteristics of the systems, but the underlying mechanisms warrant further investigation.