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Effects of Mercury Deposition and Coniferous Forests on the Mercury Contamination of Fish in the South Central United States

Drenner, Ray W., Chumchal, Matthew M., Jones, Christina M., Lehmann, Christopher M. B., Gay, David A., Donato, David I.
Environmental Science & Technology 2013 v.47 no.3 pp. 1274-1279
Micropterus salmoides, United States Environmental Protection Agency, aquatic food webs, coniferous forests, deciduous forests, ecoregions, fish, fish consumption, human health, humans, mercury, models, pollution, toxicity, variance, wildlife, Midwestern United States
Mercury (Hg) is a toxic metal that is found in aquatic food webs and is hazardous to human and wildlife health. We examined the relationship between Hg deposition, land coverage by coniferous and deciduous forests, and average Hg concentrations in largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides)-equivalent fish (LMBE) in 14 ecoregions located within all or part of six states in the South Central U.S. In 11 ecoregions, the average Hg concentrations in 35.6-cm total length LMBE were above 300 ng/g, the threshold concentration of Hg recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the issuance of fish consumption advisories. Percent land coverage by coniferous forests within ecoregions had a significant linear relationship with average Hg concentrations in LMBE while percent land coverage by deciduous forests did not. Eighty percent of the variance in average Hg concentrations in LMBE between ecoregions could be accounted for by estimated Hg deposition after adjusting for the effects of coniferous forests. Here we show for the first time that fish from ecoregions with high atmospheric Hg pollution and coniferous forest coverage pose a significant hazard to human health. Our study suggests that models that use Hg deposition to predict Hg concentrations in fish could be improved by including the effects of coniferous forests on Hg deposition.