Resolving a paradox—high mercury deposition, but low bioaccumulation in northeastern Puerto Rico

By: , and 



At a “clean air” trade winds site in northeastern Puerto Rico, we found an apparent paradox: atmospheric total mercury (THg) deposition was highest of any site in the USA Mercury Deposition Network, but assimilation into the local food web was quite low. Avian blood THg concentrations (n = 31, from eight species in five foraging guilds) ranged widely from 0.2 to 32 ng g−1 (median of 4.3 ng g−1). Within this population, THg was significantly greater at a low-elevation site near a wetland compared to an upland montane site, even when the comparison was limited to a single species. Overall, however, THg concentrations were approximately an order of magnitude lower than comparable populations in the continental U.S. In surface soil and sediment, potential rates of demethylation were 3 to 9-fold greater than those for Hg(II)-methylation (based on six radiotracer amendment incubations), but rates of change of ambient MeHg pools showed a slight net positive Hg(II)-methylation. Thus, the resolution of the paradox is that MeHg degradation approximately keeps pace with MeHg production in this landscape. Further, any net production of MeHg is subject to frequent flushing by high rainfall on chronically wet soils. The interplay of these microbial processes and hydrology appears to shield the local food web from adverse effects of high atmospheric mercury loading. This scenario may play out in other humid tropical ecosystems as well, but it is difficult to evaluate because coordinated studies of Hg deposition, methylation, and trophic uptake have not been conducted at other tropical sites.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Resolving a paradox—high mercury deposition, but low bioaccumulation in northeastern Puerto Rico
Series title Ecotoxicology
DOI 10.1007/s10646-019-02108-z
Volume 29
Year Published 2019
Language English
Publisher Springer
Contributing office(s) New England Water Science Center
Description 16 p.
First page 1207
Last page 1220
Country United States
State Puerto Rico
Other Geospatial Northwest
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