Mercury methylation may be enhanced in wetlands and humic-rich, blackwater systems that crocodiles and alligators typically inhabit. Given their high trophic level and long life-spans, crocodilians could accumulate significant burdens of Hg. Our objectives were to survey Hg concentrations in alligators from several areas in the southeastern United States to test their utility as sentinels of Hg contamination, to examine relationships among Hg concentrations in various tissues and to look for any differences in tissue Hg concentrations among locations. We measured total Hg concentrations in alligators collected in the Florida Everglades (n = 18), the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia (n = 9), the Savannah River Site (SRS), South Carolina (n = 49) and various locations in central Florida ( n = 21), sampling tissues including blood, brain, liver, kidney, muscle, bone, fat, spleen, claws and dermal scutes. Alligators from the Everglades were mostly juvenile, but Hg concentrations in tissues were high (means: liver 41.0, kidney 36.4, muscle 5.6 mg Hg/kg dry wt.). Concentrations in alligators from other locations in Florida were lower (means: liver 14.6, kidney 12.6, muscle 1.8 mg Hg/kg dry wt.), although they tended to be larger adults. Alligators from the Okefenokee were smallest and had the lowest Hg concentrations (means: liver 4.3, kidney 4.8, muscle 0.8 mg Hg/kg dry wt.). At some locations, alligator length was correlated with Hg concentrations in some internal organs. However, at three of the four locations, muscle Hg was not related to length. Tissue Hg concentrations were correlated at most locations; however, claw or dermal scute Hg explained less than 74% of the variation of Hg in muscle or organs, suggesting readily-obtained tissues, such as scutes or claws, have limited value for nondestructive screening of Hg in alligator populations.
Additional publication details
Mercury in alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) in the southeastern United States