Ratio of Methylmercury to Dissolved Organic Carbon in Water Explains Methylmercury Bioaccumulation Across a Latitudinal Gradient from North-Temperate to Arctic Lakes

We investigated monomethylmercury (MMHg) bioaccumulation in lakes across a 30° latitudinal gradient in eastern Canada to test the hypothesis that climate-related environmental conditions affect the sensitivity of Arctic lakes to atmospheric mercury contamination. Aquatic invertebrates (chironomid larvae, zooplankton) provided indicators of MMHg bioaccumulation near the base of benthic and planktonic food chains. In step with published data showing latitudinal declines in atmospheric mercury deposition in Canada, we observed lower total mercury concentrations in water and sediment of higher latitude lakes. Despite latitudinal declines of inorganic mercury exposure, MMHg bioaccumulation in aquatic invertebrates did not concomitantly decline. Arctic lakes with greater MMHg in aquatic invertebrates either had (1) higher water MMHg concentrations (reflecting ecosystem MMHg production) or (2) low water concentrations of MMHg, dissolved organic carbon (DOC), chlorophyll, and total nitrogen (reflecting lake sensitivity). The MMHg:DOC ratio of surface water was a strong predictor of lake sensitivity to mercury contamination. Bioaccumulation factors for biofilms and seston in Arctic lakes showed more efficient uptake of MMHg in low DOC systems. Environmental conditions associated with low biological production in Arctic lakes and their watersheds increased the sensitivity of lakes to MMHg.