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Sci Total Environ. 2007 Jan 1;372(2-3):571-84. Epub 2006 Dec 6.

Age and trophic position dominate bioaccumulation of mercury and organochlorines in the food web of Lake Washington.

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  • 1U.S. Geological Survey, Washington Cooperative Fisheries and Wildlife Research Unit, School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington, Box 355020, 1122 NE Boat St., Seattle, WA 98105, USA.


Understanding the mechanisms of bioaccumulation in food webs is critical to predicting which food webs are at risk for higher rates of bioaccumulation that endanger the health of upper-trophic predators, including humans. Mercury and organochlorines were measured concurrently with stable isotopes of nitrogen and carbon in key fishes and invertebrates of Lake Washington to explore important pathways of bioaccumulation in this food web. Across the food web, age and trophic position together were highly significant predictors of bioaccumulation. Trophic position was more important than age for predicting accumulation of mercury, sigmaDDT, and sigma-chlordane, whereas age was more important than trophic position for predicting sigmaPCB. Excluding age from the analysis inflated the apparent importance of trophic position to bioaccumulation for all contaminants. Benthic and pelagic habitats had similar potential to bioaccumulate contaminants, although higher sigma-chlordane concentrations in organisms were weakly associated with more benthic carbon signals. In individual fish species, contaminant concentrations increased with age, size, and trophic position (delta15N), whereas relationships with carbon source (delta13C) were not consistent. Lipid concentrations were correlated with contaminant concentrations in some but not all fishes, suggesting that lipids were not involved mechanistically in bioaccumulation. Contaminant concentrations in biota did not vary among littoral sites. Collectively, these results suggest that age may be an important determinant of bioaccumulation in many food webs and could help explain a significant amount of the variability in apparent biomagnification rates among food webs. As such, effort should be made when possible to collect information on organism age in addition to stable isotopes when assessing food webs for rates of biomagnification.

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