Assessing the spatial and temporal patterns of total mercury δ 15N and δ13C in yellow perch and their prey items from a contaminated site, St. Lawrence River, Cornwall, ON
Yanch, Laura Elizabeth
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As a result of the legacy of industrial contamination over the last century, areas of sediment deposition in the St. Lawrence River at Cornwall, ON, contain high concentrations of mercury (Hg). The popular sport-fish species, yellow perch (Perca flavescens) and walleye (Sander vitreus) have been found to contain mercury concentrations exceeding Ontario Ministry of Environment consumption guidelines. Interestingly, a paradox exists between two contaminated sites – despite elevated sediment Hg concentrations at Zone 2, fish from Zone 1 contain higher Hg concentrations. Further research has indicated that these patterns of Hg were not attributed to growth rate, condition factor, diet composition, or trophic position of yellow perch. Rather, Hg concentrations in yellow perch may be described by the heterogeneity of prey contamination and fish bioenergetics. As a result of the paradox between total Hg (THg) concentrations in sediments and biota between two contaminated sites, it was necessary to examine the benthic invertebrate community and how it may transfer Hg from sediments to yellow perch. This apparent paradox now extends to all prey items, since prey items from the stomach contents of yellow perch caught in Zone 1 were significantly more contaminated than those of Zone 2. Use of δ15N and δ13C, measures of trophic position and energy source, respectively, indicated that prey selection, but not food chain length, may also be an important factor in explaining the variation in Hg burdens in yellow perch. Small-scale patterns of biomagnification, as shown by a comparison of δ15N and logTHg, indicated that the rates of biomagnification were similar among zones, but the amount of THg present at the base of the food web was twice as high at Zone 1 as at other contaminated sites. Overall, the relative importance of vertical and horizontal food web structure changed spatially and temporally, highly influencing THg concentrations of prey items and yellow perch.