Certain ecosystem types, particularly wetlands, have environmental characteristics that can make them particularly sensitive to mercury inputs and that can result in large mercury concentrations in fish or other aquatic biota. To provide information needed to make effective management decisions to decrease human and wildlife exposure to methylmercury in northern prairie pothole wetlands, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the North Dakota Department of Health, conducted a study to assess mercury and methylmercury concentrations in wetlands at the Lostwood National Wildlife Refuge (the Refuge) in northwest North Dakota. In April 2003 and 2004, water and bottom-sediment samples were collected from 44 individual wetlands that were classified as one of four wetland types. Many factors that may affect methylmercury production were considered in the study.
The prairie pothole wetlands at the Refuge had large ranges in major environmental characteristics. Hydrologic differences, most notably semiannual wetting and drying cycles, that are intrinsic to prairie pothole wetlands affected methylmercury concentrations. This likely resulted from the stimulation of anaerobic microbial activity following reflooding of soils, particularly soils containing substantial organic carbon. Among the four wetland types considered for this study, seasonal and semipermanent wetlands generally had the largest methylmercury concentrations. Regardless of wetland type, however, methylmercury concentrations at the Refuge are large in relation to reported concentrations for natural aquatic systems.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Mercury and Methylmercury in Water and Bottom Sediments of Wetlands at Lostwood National Wildlife Refuge, North Dakota, 2003-04