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Sci Total Environ. 2006 Sep 1;368(1):271-82. Epub 2005 Oct 14.

Bioaccumulation patterns of methyl mercury and essential fatty acids in lacustrine planktonic food webs and fish.

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Water and Watershed Research Program, Department of Biology, University of Victoria, P.O. Box 3020, Stn CSC, Victoria (BC) V8W 3N5 Canada.


Organisms of the planktonic food web convey essential nutrients as well as contaminants to animals at higher trophic levels. We measured concentrations of methyl mercury (MeHg) and essential fatty acids (EFAs, key nutrients for aquatic food webs) in four size categories of planktonic organisms - seston (10-64 microm), micro-(100-200 microm), meso-(200-500 microm), and macrozooplankton (>500 microm) - as well as total mercury (THg) and EFAs in rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) in coastal lakes. We demonstrate that, in all lakes during this summer sampling, MeHg concentrations of planktonic organisms increase significantly with plankton size, independent of their taxonomic composition, and that their MeHg accumulation patterns predict significantly THg concentrations in rainbow trout (R2=0.71, p<0.05). However, concentrations of total EFAs do not follow this pattern. Total EFAs increased from seston to mesozooplankton but decreased in the largest zooplankton size fraction. Moreover, concentrations of individual EFA compounds in rainbow trout are consistently lower, with the exception of docosahexaenoic acid, than those in macrozooplankton. The continuous increase of MeHg concentrations in aquatic organisms, therefore, differs from patterns of EFA accumulation in zooplankton and fish. We interpret these contrasting accumulation patterns of MeHg and EFA compounds as the inability of aquatic organisms to regulate the assimilation of dietary MeHg, whereas the rate of EFA retention may be controlled to optimize their physiological performance. Therefore, we conclude that bioaccumulation patterns of Hg in these aquatic food webs are not controlled by lipid solubility and/or the retention of EFA compounds.

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