Bottom-up nutrient and top-down fish impacts on insect-mediated mercury flux from aquatic ecosystems



Methyl mercury (MeHg) is one of the most hazardous contaminants in the environment, adversely affecting the health of wildlife and humans. Recent studies have demonstrated that aquatic insects biotransport MeHg and other contaminants to terrestrial consumers, but the factors that regulate the flux of MeHg out of aquatic ecosystems via emergent insects have not been studied. The authors used experimental mesocosms to test the hypothesis that insect emergence and the associated flux of MeHg from aquatic to terrestrial ecosystems is affected by both bottom-up nutrient effects and top-down fish consumer effects. In the present study, nutrient addition led to an increase in MeHg flux primarily by enhancing the biomass of emerging insects whose tissues were contaminated with MeHg, whereas fish decreased MeHg flux primarily by reducing the biomass of emerging insects. Furthermore, the authors found that these factors are interdependent such that the effects of nutrients are more pronounced when fish are absent, and the effects of fish are more pronounced when nutrient concentrations are high. The present study is the first to demonstrate that the flux of MeHg from aquatic to terrestrial ecosystems is strongly enhanced by bottom-up nutrient effects and diminished by top-down consumer effects. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 2013;32:612–618. © 2012 SETAC