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Keywords:

  • Turtle;
  • Mercury;
  • Selenium;
  • Trophic position;
  • Stable isotopes

Abstract

Mercury is a relatively well-studied pollutant because of its global distribution, toxicity, and ability to bioaccumulate and biomagnify in food webs; however, little is known about bioaccumulation and toxicity of Hg in turtles. Total Hg (THg) concentrations in blood were determined for 552 turtles representing four different species (Chelydra serpentina, Sternotherus odoratus, Chrysemys picta, and Pseudemys rubriventris) from a Hg-contaminated site on the South River (VA, USA) and upstream reference sites. Methylmercury and Se concentrations also were determined in a subset of samples. Because the feeding ecology of these species differs drastically, stable isotopes of carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) were employed to infer the relationship between relative trophic position and Hg concentrations. Significant differences were found among sites and species, suggesting that blood can be used as a bioindicator of Hg exposure in turtles. We found differences in THg concentrations in turtles from the contaminated site that were consistent with their known feeding ecology: C. serpentinaS. odoratus > C. picta > P. rubriventris. This trend was generally supported by the isotope data, which suggested that individual turtles were feeding at more than one trophic level. Methylmercury followed similar spatial patterns as THg and was the predominant Hg species in blood for all turtles. Blood Se concentrations were low in the system, but a marginally positive relationship was found between THg and Se when species were pooled. The blood THg concentrations for the turtles in the present study are some of the highest reported in reptiles, necessitating further studies to investigate potential adverse effects of these high concentrations.