Mercury biomagnification in an Antarctic food web of the Antarctic Peninsula

Under the climate change context, warming Southern Ocean waters may allow mercury (Hg) to become more bioavailable to the Antarctic marine food web (i.e., ice-stored Hg release and higher methylation rates by microorganisms), whose biomagnification processes are poorly documented. Biomagnification of Hg in the food web of the Antarctic Peninsula, one of the world's fastest-warming regions, was examined using carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) stable isotope ratios for estimating feeding habitat and trophic levels, respectively. The stable isotope signatures and total Hg (T-Hg) concentrations were measured in Antarctic krill Euphausia superba and several Antarctic predator species, including seabirds (gentoo penguins Pygoscelis papua, chinstrap penguins Pygoscelis antarcticus, brown skuas Stercorarius antarcticus, kelp gulls Larus dominicanus, southern giant petrels Macronectes giganteus) and marine mammals (southern elephant seals Mirounga leonina). Significant differences in δ13C values among species were noted with a great overlap between seabird species and M. leonina. As expected, significant differences in δ15N values among species were found due to interspecific variations in diet-related to their trophic position within the marine food web. The lowest Hg concentrations were registered in E. superba (0.007 ± 0.008 μg g−1) and the highest values in M. giganteus (12.090 ± 14.177 μg g−1). Additionally, a significant positive relationship was found between Hg concentrations and trophic levels (reflected by δ15N values), biomagnifying nearly 2 times its concentrations at each level. Our results support that trophic interaction is the major pathway for Hg biomagnification in Southern Ocean ecosystems and warn about an increase in the effects of Hg on long–lived (and high trophic level) Antarctic predators under climate change in the future.


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Authors: Matias, Ricardo S., Guímaro, Hugo R., Bustamante, Paco, Seco, José, Chipev, Nesho, Fragão, Joana, Tavares, Sílvia, Ceia, Filipe R., Pereira, Maria E., Barbosa, Andrés, Xavier, José C. ORCIDORCID record for José C. Xavier

1 July, 2022
Environmental Pollution / 304
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