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Science. 2008 Apr 18;320(5874):335. doi: 10.1126/science.1154082.

The movement of aquatic mercury through terrestrial food webs.

Author information

  • 1Institute for Integrative Bird Behavior Studies, Department of Biology, College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA 23185, USA. dacris@wm.edu


Mercury has contaminated rivers worldwide, with health consequences for aquatic organisms and humans who consume them. Researchers have focused on aquatic birds as sentinels for mercury. However, trophic transfer between adjacent ecosystems could lead to the export of aquatic mercury to terrestrial habitats. Along a mercury-contaminated river in Virginia, United States, terrestrial birds had significantly elevated levels of mercury in their blood, similar to their aquatic-feeding counterparts. Diet analysis revealed that spiders delivered much of the dietary mercury. We conclude that aquatic mercury pollution can move into terrestrial habitats, where it biomagnifies to levels in songbirds that may cause adverse effects. Rivers contaminated with mercury may pose a threat to the many bird species that feed on predatory invertebrates in adjacent riparian habitats.

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