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Aquat Toxicol. 2011 Apr;102(3-4):134-41. doi: 10.1016/j.aquatox.2011.01.006. Epub 2011 Jan 25.

Necrophagy by a benthic omnivore influences biomagnification of methylmercury in fish.

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  • 1Department of Zoology, Miami University, Oxford, OH 45056, USA.


Omnivory has an important role in the movement of energy, nutrients, and contaminants between benthic and pelagic food webs. While top-predator fish are known to supplement a mostly piscivorous diet with benthic organisms, a more obscure benthic-pelagic coupling occurs when benthic invertebrates forage on fish carcasses, referred to as necrophagy. The combination of these two benthic-pelagic links, top-predator fish feeding on benthic organisms that have fed on dead fish, can generate a trophic feedback cycle that conserves energy and nutrients and may have implications for biomagnification of methylmercury (MeHg) in fish. We investigated the role of necrophagy by crayfish (Procambarus clarkii), via a trophic feedback cycle, on the biomagnification of MeHg in largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides), a cosmopolitan top predator fish known to feed on crayfish. Controlled laboratory tests quantified the uptake of MeHg by both organisms from artificial and natural food (whole crayfish or bass tissue). Assimilation efficiency (AE) of MeHg was greater for bass fed crayfish (79±0.5%) than those fed artificial food (60±3%). Furthermore, AE of MeHg was greatest for largemouth bass fed crayfish that fed on MeHg-dosed dead fish (i.e., trophic feedback cycle; 94±17%). A model, parameterized with results of the laboratory experiments, was used to make steady-state projections of MeHg biomagnification factors. Model projections also indicate that MeHg biomagnification would be greatest for largemouth bass from a trophic feedback cycle. These results suggest that food web ecology has an important role in determining MeHg levels in predatory fish and underscore the need for further investigation into the magnitude that necrophagy may affect MeHg biomagnification in aquatic systems.

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