Climate Effects on Methylmercury Bioaccumulation Along a Latitudinal Gradient in the Eastern Canadian Arctic
Friday, 19 December 2014: 12:05 PM
Recent evidence indicates that inorganic mercury (Hg) loadings to Arctic lakes decline with latitude. However, monomethylmercury (MMHg) concentrations in fish and their prey do not decline in a similar fashion, suggesting that higher latitude lakes are more vulnerable to Hg inputs. Preliminary results will be presented from a three-year study (2012-2015) of climate effects on MMHg bioaccumulation in lakes of the eastern Canadian Arctic. We have investigated mercury transport and accumulation processes in lakes and ponds from three study regions along a latitudinal gradient in climate-controlled ecosystem types in the Canadian Arctic, specifically sub-Arctic taiga, Arctic tundra and polar desert. In each water body, we measured key aspects of MMHg bioaccumulation—MMHg bioavailability to benthic food webs and organism growth rates—as well as how watershed characteristics affect the transport of Hg and organic carbon to lakes. Novel approaches were incorporated including the use of passive samplers (Diffusive Gradient in Thin Film samplers or DGTs) to estimate sediment bioavailable MMHg concentrations and tissue RNA content to compare organism short-term growth rates. A comparison of Arctic tundra and sub-Arctic taiga lakes showed that surface water concentrations of MMHg were strongly and positively correlated to total Hg concentrations both within and among study regions, implying strong control of inorganic Hg supply. Sediment concentrations of bioavailable MMHg were highly variable among lakes, although average concentrations were similar between study regions. Local environmental conditions appear to have a strong influence on sediment potential for MMHg supply. Lake-dwelling Arctic char from tundra lakes had similar or higher total Hg concentrations compared with brook trout from sub-Arctic lakes that were exposed to higher water MMHg concentrations. Potential environmental drivers of these patterns will be discussed. This latitudinal study will provide new information on how climate change may affect temporal and geographic trends of Hg bioaccumulation in the Arctic.