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Ecotoxicology. 2019 Jun 26. doi: 10.1007/s10646-019-02068-4. [Epub ahead of print]

Bioaccumulation of methylmercury in wood frogs and spotted salamanders in Vermont vernal pools.

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Vermont Center for Ecostudies, Norwich, VT, USA.
Department of Biological Sciences, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH, USA.
Vermont Center for Ecostudies, Norwich, VT, USA.
Program in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL, USA.
Department of Earth Science, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH, USA.


Mercury (Hg) has accumulated in forested landscapes in the Northeastern U.S., and hotspots with enhanced deposition have been identified throughout the region. Due to a variety of favorable landscape characteristics, including relatively high dissolved organic carbon (DOC), fluctuating water levels, and low pH and dissolved oxygen, vernal pools provide ideal conditions for the conversion of Hg to its more toxic and bioavailable form, methylmercury (MeHg). Yet little is known about the concentrations, speciation, and bioavailability of Hg in vernal pools, or its bioaccumulation in vernal pool fauna and potential export into terrestrial systems. We investigated the role of forest cover type on the bioaccumulation of MeHg in wood frog (Lithobates sylvatica) and spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) eggs, larvae, and adults, and investigated relationships among MeHg and water chemistry (pH, DOC). Water samples from pools located in coniferous stands had greater concentrations of THg and MeHg compared to deciduous pool water, and showed significant positive correlation to DOC (r = 0.683, P < 0.001) and correlated negatively with pH (r = -0.613, P < 0.001). Methylmercury levels in amphibian embryos were similar between the two species (L. sylvatica mean = 5.4 ng/g dw; A. maculatum mean = 3.5 ng/g dw). Concentrations of MeHg increased substantially in larvae, and were significantly greater in A. maculatum (mean = 237.6 ng/g ± 18.5 SE) than L. sylvatica larvae (62.5 ng/g ± 5.7 SE). Forest cover type did not explain variation in MeHg concentration among amphibian embryos or larvae. Methylmercury levels in adult tissue samples were significantly greater in A. maculatum (mean = 79.9 ng/g ± 8.9 SE) compared to L. sylvatica (mean = 47.7 ng/g ± 9.7 SE). This research demonstrates that vernal pools are important hotspots where amphibians bioaccumulate MeHg, which may then be transferred to terrestrial ecosystems. The abundance of amphibian larvae suggests they could be important bioindicators for monitoring MeHg loading and bioavailability.


Ambystoma maculatum; Amphibians; Lithobates sylvatica; Methylmercury; Vernal pools


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