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

Shanley, James
Marvin-DiPasquale, Mark
Hall, Steven
Lane, Oksana
Arendt, Wayne
Hall, Steven
McDowell, William
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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.

<p>This article is published as Shanley, James B., Mark Marvin-DiPasquale, Oksana Lane, Wayne Arendt, Steven Hall, and William H. McDowell. "Resolving a paradox—high mercury deposition, but low bioaccumulation in northeastern Puerto Rico." <em>Ecotoxicology </em>(2019). doi: <a href="" target="_blank">10.1007/s10646-019-02108-z</a>.</p>