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Avian, salamander, and forest floor mercury concentrations increase with elevation in a terrestrial ecosystem

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Abstract

High-elevation ecosystems of the northeastern United States are vulnerable to deposition and environmental accumulation of atmospheric pollutants, yet little work has been done to assess mercury (Hg) concentrations in organisms occupying montane ecosystems. The authors present data on Hg concentrations in ground-foraging insectivorous songbirds, a terrestrial salamander, and forest floor horizons sampled along a forested elevational gradient from 185 m to 1273 m in the Catskill Mountains, New York, USA. Mean Hg concentrations in Catharus thrushes and the salamander Plethodon cinereus increased with elevation, as did Hg concentrations in all forest floor horizons. Mean Hg concentrations in organic soils at approximately 1200 m elevation (503.5 ± 17.7 ng/g, dry wt) were 4.4-fold greater than those at approximately 200 m. Montane ecosystems of the northeastern United States, and probably elsewhere, are exposed to higher levels of atmospheric Hg deposition as reflected in accumulation patterns in the forest floor and associated high-elevation fauna. This information can be used to parameterize and test Hg transport and bioaccumulation models of landscape-specific patterns and may serve as a monitoring tool for decision makers considering future controls on Hg emissions. Further investigation is needed into the potential effects of increased Hg concentrations on high-elevation fauna. Environ Toxicol Chem 2014;33:208–215. © 2013 SETAC

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