Mercury Speciation and Trophic Magnification Slopes in Giant Salamander Larvae from the Pacific Northwest, USA

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Michael S Bank1, Jeff Crocker2, Jennifer Wachtl3, Patrick Kleeman4, Gary Fellers4, Chris Currens5, Roger Hothem6 and Mary Ann Madej5, (1)University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA, United States, (2)Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, Montpelier, VT, United States, (3)National Park Service, Concord, MA, United States, (4)USGS, Western Ecological Research Center, Point Reyes Station, CA, United States, (5)USGS, Western Ecological Research Center, Redwood Field Station, Arcata, CA, United States, (6)USGS, Western Ecological Research Center, Dixon, CA, United States
Mercury (Hg) contamination of stream salamanders in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States has received little attention. Here we report total Hg (HgT) and methyl mercury (MeHg) concentrations in larval giant salamanders (Dicamptodon spp.) and surface water from forested and chaparral lotic ecosystems distributed along a latitudinal gradient throughout Northern California and Washington. To test hypotheses related to potential effects from mining land-use activities, salamander larvae were also sampled from a reference site at Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, California, and at a nearby, upstream site (Shasta county) on Bureau of Land Management land where Hg contamination from gold mining activities has been documented. HgT concentrations in whole body larvae ranged from 4.6 to 74.5 ng/g wet wt. and percent MeHg ranged from 67% to 86%. Both HgT and MeHg larval tissue concentrations were significantly higher at the mining site in comparison to measured background levels (P < 0.001). We conclude that salamander larvae in remote stream ecosystems, where Hg sources were dominated by atmospheric deposition, were generally low in HgT and MeHg and, in comparison, watersheds with a legacy of land-use practices (i.e., mining operations) had approximately 4.5 - 5.5 times the level of HgT bioaccumulation. Moreover, trophic magnification slopes were highest in the Shasta county region where mining was present. These findings suggest that mining activities increase HgT and MeHg exposure to salamander larvae in the region and may present a threat to other higher trophically positioned organisms, and their associated food webs.