Salmon-derived mercury and nutrients in a Lake Ontario spawning stream

Sarica, José, Marc Amyot, Landis Hare, Marie-Renée Doyon, Les William Stanfield

Limnol. Oceanogr., 49(4), 2004, 891-899 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2004.49.4.0891

ABSTRACT: We tested the hypothesis that concentrations of mercury species (Hg) and nutrients (NH4+, NO3-, P, and dissolved organic carbon) in abiotic and biotic components would be altered by the decomposition of salmon carcasses in streams. We investigated a tributary stream of Lake Ontario receiving spawning runs of Chinook salmon (Oncorhyncus tshawytscha) for 2 yr with contrasting bear activity. Stations with high carcass densities had significantly higher levels of aqueous total Hg, methylmercury (MeHg), particulate Hg, and nutrients than did stations with lower carcass densities. Hg levels in aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates feeding on carcasses increased by up to 25-fold. In 2001, a bear removed most carcasses at the downstream station, and aqueous Hg and nutrient concentrations were significantly lower than during the preceding year, when no bear was active at that station. A preliminary budget for this stream shows that (1) salmon carcasses can be an important source of Hg and nutrients to aquatic and terrestrial food webs, and (2) terrestrial invertebrates and vertebrates can be important water-to-land vectors of Hg.

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