Accumulation of heavy metals in food web components across a gradient of lakes

Chen, Celia Y., Richard S. Stemberger, Bjorn Klaue, Joel D. Blum, Paul C. Pickhardt, Carol L. Folt

Limnol. Oceanogr., 45(7), 2000, 1525-1536 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2000.45.7.1525

ABSTRACT: Recent studies have emphasized the need for understanding the accumulation and fate of metal contaminants at different trophic levels and across a broad spectrum of lake types. To address both issues, metal concentrations (Hg, Zn, Cd, As, and Pb) were measured in the water, two size fractions of zooplankton, and fish from 20 lakes in contaminated to pristine watersheds in the northeastern United States. Our goals were to examine links between watershed characteristics and aqueous metal levels in lakes and relationships between aqueous concentrations, metal burdens in different plankton groups and in fish. Two pairs of metals, (1) Hg and Zn and (2) As and Pb, exhibited strong similarities both in the factors that predict their concentrations in water and in the patterns of accumulation in particular trophic levels. Aqueous concentrations of Hg and Zn were highest in cool water lakes, whereas As and Pb were highest in more eutrophic lakes in agricultural areas. Aqueous Cd concentrations were closely correlated with the land-use variables, percentage of agricultural land, and road densities. Similarly, Hg and Zn both biomagnified from small plankton (45-202 µm) to macrozooplankton (>202 mm) and from macrozooplankton to fish. In contrast, bioaccumulation of both As and Pb diminished with increasing trophic level. Although aqueous metal and zooplankton metal levels were not significant predictors of As and Pb levels in fish, metal levels in zooplankton were predictive of Hg and Zn in fish, suggesting that sources of bioaccumulation differ for different metals. Our findings demonstrate the importance of investigating upper and lower trophic levels separately, to fully understand metal transfer pathways in aquatic food webs.

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