Ontogenetic patterns in bluefish (Pomatomus saltatrix) feeding ecology and the effect on mercury biomagnification



In this study, bluefish (Pomatomus saltatrix; age 0–7, n = 632) and their prey (forage fish, macroinvertebrates, zooplankton; n = 2,005) were collected from the Narragansett Bay estuary (RI, USA), and total Hg concentration was measured in white muscle and whole-body tissues, respectively. Bluefish Hg concentrations were analyzed relative to fish length, prey Hg content, and ontogenetic shifts in habitat use and foraging ecology, the latter assessed using stomach content analysis (n = 711) and stable nitrogen (δ15N) and carbon (δ13C) isotope measurements (n = 360). Diet and δ13C analysis showed that age 0 bluefish consumed both benthic and pelagic prey (silversides, sand shrimp, planktonic crustaceans; δ13C = − 16.52‰), whereas age 1 + bluefish fed almost exclusively on pelagic forage fish (Atlantic menhaden, herring; δ13C = − 17.33‰). Bluefish total Hg concentrations were significantly correlated with length (mean Hg = 0.041 and 0.254 ppm wet wt for age 0 and age 1 + bluefish, respectively). Furthermore, Hg biomagnification rates were maximal during bluefish early life stages and decelerated over time, resulting in relatively high Hg concentrations in age 0 fish. Rapid Hg accumulation in age 0 bluefish is attributed to these individuals occupying a comparable trophic level to age 1 + bluefish (δ15N = 15.58 and 16.09‰; trophic level = 3.55 and 3.71 for age 0 and age 1 + bluefish, respectively), as well as juveniles having greater standardized consumption rates of Hg-contaminated prey. Finally, bluefish larger than 30 cm total length consistently had Hg levels above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency criterion of 0.3 ppm. As such, frequent consumption of bluefish could pose a human health risk, and preferentially consuming smaller bluefish may be an inadequate strategy for minimizing human dietary exposure to Hg. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 2011; 30:1447–1458. © 2011 SETAC