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Understanding Enhanced Microbial MeHg Production in Mining-Contaminated Paddy Soils under Sulfate Amendment: Changes in Hg Mobility or Microbial Methylators?

Li, Yunyun, Zhao, Jiating, Zhong, Huan, Wang, Yongjie, Li, Hong, Li, Yu-Feng, Liem-Nguyen, Van, Jiang, Tao, Zhang, Zhiyong, Gao, Yuxi, Chai, Zhifang
Environmental science & technology 2019 v.53 no.4 pp. 1844-1852
bioaccumulation, irrigation, mercury, methylation, methylmercury compounds, paddy soils, polluted soils, rain, sulfates
Elevated methylmercury (MeHg) production in mining-contaminated paddy soils, despite the high fraction of refractory HgS(s), has been frequently reported, while the underlying mechanisms are not fully understood. Here, we hypothesized that sulfate input, via fertilization, rainfall, and irrigation, is critical in mobilizing refractory HgS(s) and thus enhancing Hg methylation in mining-contaminated paddy soils. To test this hypothesis, the effects of sulfate amendment on Hg methylation and MeHg bioaccumulation in mining-contaminated soil-rice systems were examined. The results indicated 28–61% higher net MeHg production in soils under sulfate amendment (50–1000 mg kg–¹), which in turn increased grain MeHg levels by 22–55%. The enhancement of Hg methylation by Hg mobilization in sulfate-amended soils was supported by two observations: (1) the increased Hg(aq) release from HgS(s), the dominant Hg species in the paddy soils, in the presence of sulfide produced following sulfate reduction and (2) the decreases of refractory HgS(s) in soils under sulfate amendment. By contrast, changes in the abundances/activities of potential microbial Hg methylators in different Hg-contaminated soils were not significant following sulfate amendment. Our results highlight the importance to consider enhanced Hg mobility and thus methylation in soils under sulfate amendment.