skip to main content

Title: An assessment of temporal trends in mercury concentrations in fish
The importance of fish consumption as the primary pathway of human exposure to mercury and the establishment of fish consumption advisories to protect human health have led to large fish tissue monitoring programs worldwide. Data on fish tissue mercury concentrations collected by state, tribal, and provincial governments via contaminant monitoring programs have been compiled into large data bases by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes National Monitoring Program Office (GLNPO), the Ontario Ministry of the Environment’s Fish Contaminants Monitoring and Surveillance Program (FMSP), and many others. These data have been used by a wide range of governmental and academic investigators worldwide to examine long-term and recent trends in fish tissue mercury concentrations. The largest component of the trend literature is for North American freshwater species important in recreational fisheries. This review of temporal trends in fish tissue mercury concentrations focused on published results from freshwater fisheries of North America as well as marine fisheries worldwide. Trends in fish tissue mercury concentrations in North American lakes with marked overall decreases were reported over the period 1972–2016. These trends are consistent with reported mercury emission declines as well as trends in wet deposition across the U.S. and Canada. More recently, a leveling-off in the rate of decreases or increases in fish tissue mercury more » concentrations has been reported. Increased emissions of mercury from global sources beginning between 1990 and 1995, despite a decrease in North American emissions, have been advanced as an explanation for the observed changes in fish tissue trends. In addition to increased atmospheric deposition, the other factors identified to explain the observed mercury increases in the affected fish species include a systematic shift in the food-web structure with the introduction of non-native species, creating a new or expanding role for sediments as a net source for mercury. The influences of climate change have also been identified as contributing factors, including considerations such as increases in temperature (resulting in metabolic changes and higher uptake rates of methylmercury), increased rainfall intensity and runoff (hydrologic export of organic matter carrying HgII from watersheds to surface water), and water level fluctuations that alter either the methylation of mercury or the mobilization of monomethylmercury. The primary source of mercury exposure in the human diet in North America is from the commercial fish and seafood market which is dominated (>90%) by marine species. However, very little information is available on mercury trends in marine fisheries. Most of the data used in the published marine trend studies are assembled from earlier reports. The data collection efforts are generally intermittent, and the spatial and fish-size distribution of the target species vary widely. As a result, convincing evidence for the existence of fish tissue mercury trends in marine fish is generally lacking. However, there is some evidence from sampling of large, longlived commercially-important fish showing both lower mercury concentrations in the North Atlantic in response to reduced anthropogenic mercury emission rates in North America and increases in fish tissue mercury concentrations over time in the North Pacific in response to increased mercury loading. « less
; ; ;
Award ID(s):
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. To understand the impact reduced mercury (Hg) loading and invasive species have had on methylmercury bioaccumulation in predator fish of Lake Michigan, we reconstructed bioaccumulation trends from a fish archive (1978 to 2012). By measuring fish Hg stable isotope ratios, we related temporal changes in Hg concentrations to varying Hg sources. Additionally, dietary tracers were necessary to identify food web influences. Through combined Hg, C, and N stable isotopic analyses, we were able to differentiate between a shift in Hg sources to fish and periods when energetic transitions (from dreissenid mussels) led to the assimilation of contrasting Hg pools (2000more »to present). In the late 1980s, lake trout δ 202 Hg increased (0.4‰) from regulatory reductions in regional Hg emissions. After 2000, C and N isotopes ratios revealed altered food web pathways, resulting in a benthic energetic shift and changes to Hg bioaccumulation. Continued increases in δ 202 Hg indicate fish are responding to several United States mercury emission mitigation strategies that were initiated circa 1990 and continued through the 2011 promulgation of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards rule. Unlike archives of sediments, this fish archive tracks Hg sources susceptible to bioaccumulation in Great Lakes fisheries. Analysis reveals that trends in fish Hg concentrations can be substantially affected by shifts in trophic structure and dietary preferences initiated by invasive species in the Great Lakes. This does not diminish the benefits of declining emissions over this period, as fish Hg concentrations would have been higher without these actions.« less
  2. BACKGROUND The availability of nitrogen (N) to plants and microbes has a major influence on the structure and function of ecosystems. Because N is an essential component of plant proteins, low N availability constrains the growth of plants and herbivores. To increase N availability, humans apply large amounts of fertilizer to agricultural systems. Losses from these systems, combined with atmospheric deposition of fossil fuel combustion products, introduce copious quantities of reactive N into ecosystems. The negative consequences of these anthropogenic N inputs—such as ecosystem eutrophication and reductions in terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity—are well documented. Yet although N availability is increasingmore »in many locations, reactive N inputs are not evenly distributed globally. Furthermore, experiments and theory also suggest that global change factors such as elevated atmospheric CO 2 , rising temperatures, and altered precipitation and disturbance regimes can reduce the availability of N to plants and microbes in many terrestrial ecosystems. This can occur through increases in biotic demand for N or reductions in its supply to organisms. Reductions in N availability can be observed via several metrics, including lowered nitrogen concentrations ([N]) and isotope ratios (δ 15 N) in plant tissue, reduced rates of N mineralization, and reduced terrestrial N export to aquatic systems. However, a comprehensive synthesis of N availability metrics, outside of experimental settings and capable of revealing large-scale trends, has not yet been carried out. ADVANCES A growing body of observations confirms that N availability is declining in many nonagricultural ecosystems worldwide. Studies have demonstrated declining wood δ 15 N in forests across the continental US, declining foliar [N] in European forests, declining foliar [N] and δ 15 N in North American grasslands, and declining [N] in pollen from the US and southern Canada. This evidence is consistent with observed global-scale declines in foliar δ 15 N and [N] since 1980. Long-term monitoring of soil-based N availability indicators in unmanipulated systems is rare. However, forest studies in the northeast US have demonstrated decades-long decreases in soil N cycling and N exports to air and water, even in the face of elevated atmospheric N deposition. Collectively, these studies suggest a sustained decline in N availability across a range of terrestrial ecosystems, dating at least as far back as the early 20th century. Elevated atmospheric CO 2 levels are likely a main driver of declines in N availability. Terrestrial plants are now uniformly exposed to ~50% more of this essential resource than they were just 150 years ago, and experimentally exposing plants to elevated CO 2 often reduces foliar [N] as well as plant-available soil N. In addition, globally-rising temperatures may raise soil N supply in some systems but may also increase N losses and lead to lower foliar [N]. Changes in other ecosystem drivers—such as local climate patterns, N deposition rates, and disturbance regimes—individually affect smaller areas but may have important cumulative effects on global N availability. OUTLOOK Given the importance of N to ecosystem functioning, a decline in available N is likely to have far-reaching consequences. Reduced N availability likely constrains the response of plants to elevated CO 2 and the ability of ecosystems to sequester carbon. Because herbivore growth and reproduction scale with protein intake, declining foliar [N] may be contributing to widely reported declines in insect populations and may be negatively affecting the growth of grazing livestock and herbivorous wild mammals. Spatial and temporal patterns in N availability are not yet fully understood, particularly outside of Europe and North America. Developments in remote sensing, accompanied by additional historical reconstructions of N availability from tree rings, herbarium specimens, and sediments, will show how N availability trajectories vary among ecosystems. Such assessment and monitoring efforts need to be complemented by further experimental and theoretical investigations into the causes of declining N availability, its implications for global carbon sequestration, and how its effects propagate through food webs. Responses will need to involve reducing N demand via lowering atmospheric CO 2 concentrations, and/or increasing N supply. Successfully mitigating and adapting to declining N availability will require a broader understanding that this phenomenon is occurring alongside the more widely recognized issue of anthropogenic eutrophication. Intercalibration of isotopic records from leaves, tree rings, and lake sediments suggests that N availability in many terrestrial ecosystems has steadily declined since the beginning of the industrial era. Reductions in N availability may affect many aspects of ecosystem functioning, including carbon sequestration and herbivore nutrition. Shaded areas indicate 80% prediction intervals; marker size is proportional to the number of measurements in each annual mean. Isotope data: (tree ring) K. K. McLauchlan et al. , Sci. Rep. 7 , 7856 (2017); (lake sediment) G. W. Holtgrieve et al. , Science 334 , 1545–1548 (2011); (foliar) J. M. Craine et al. , Nat. Ecol. Evol. 2 , 1735–1744 (2018)« less
  3. Mercury (Hg) is an environmental toxicant dangerous to human health and the environment. Its anthropogenic emissions are regulated by global, regional, and local policies. Here, we investigate Hg sources in the coastal city of Boston, the third largest metropolitan area in the Northeastern United States. With a median of 1.37 ng m −3 , atmospheric Hg concentrations measured from August 2017 to April 2019 were at the low end of the range reported in the Northern Hemisphere and in the range reported at North American rural sites. Despite relatively low ambient Hg concentrations, we estimate anthropogenic emissions to be 3–7more »times higher than in current emission inventories using a measurement-model framework, suggesting an underestimation of small point and/or nonpoint emissions. We also test the hypothesis that a legacy Hg source from the ocean contributes to atmospheric Hg concentrations in the study area; legacy emissions (recycling of previously deposited Hg) account for ∼60% of Hg emitted annually worldwide (and much of this recycling takes place through the oceans). We find that elevated concentrations observed during easterly oceanic winds can be fully explained by low wind speeds and recirculating air allowing for accumulation of land-based emissions. This study suggests that the influence of nonpoint land-based emissions may be comparable in size to point sources in some regions and highlights the benefits of further top-down studies in other areas.« less
  4. Abstract

    Using data from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Chemical Speciation Network, we have characterized trends in PM2.5transition metals in urban areas across the United States for the period 2001–2016. The metals included in this analysis—Cr, Cu, Fe, Mn, Ni, V, and Zn—were selected based upon their abundance in PM2.5, known sources, and links to toxicity. Ten cities were included to provide broad geographic coverage, diverse source influences, and climatology: Atlanta (ATL), Baltimore (BAL), Chicago (CHI), Dallas (DAL), Denver (DEN), Los Angeles (LA), New York City (NYC), Phoenix (PHX), Seattle (SEA), and St. Louis (STL). The concentrations of V and Znmore »decreased in all ten cities, though the V decreases were more substantial. Cr concentrations increased in cities in the East and Midwest, with a pronounced spike in concentrations in 2013. The National Emissions Inventory was used to link sources with the observed trends; however, the causes of the broad Cr concentration increases and 2013 spike are not clear. Analysis of PM2.5metal concentrations in port versus non-port cities showed different trends for Ni, suggesting an important but decreasing influence of marine emissions. The concentrations of most PM2.5metals decreased in LA, STL, BAL, and SEA while concentrations of four of the seven metals (Cr, Fe, Mn, Ni) increased in DAL over the same time. Comparisons of the individual metals to overall trends in PM2.5suggest decoupled sources and processes affecting each. These metals may have an enhanced toxicity compared to other chemical species present in PM, so the results have implications for strategies to measure exposures to PM and the resulting human health effects.

    « less
  5. Abstract

    Ecologists and fisheries managers are interested in monitoring economically important marine fish species and using this data to inform management strategies. Determining environmental factors that best predict changes in these populations, particularly under rapid climate change, are a priority. I illustrate the application of the least squares-based spline estimation and group LASSO (LSSGLASSO) procedure for selection of coefficient functions in single index varying coefficient models (SIVCMs) on an ecological data set that includes spatiotemporal environmental covariates suspected to play a role in the catches and weights of six groundfish species. Temporal trends in variable selection were apparent, though themore »selection of variables was largely unrelated to common North Pacific climate indices. These results indicate that the strength of an environmental variable’s effect on a groundfish population may change over time, and not necessarily in-step with known low-frequency patterns of ocean-climate variability commonly attributable to large-scale regime shifts in the North Pacific. My application of the LSSGLASSO procedure for SIVCMs to deep water species using environmental data from various sources illustrates how variable selection with a flexible model structure can produce informative inference for remote and hard-to-reach animal populations.

    « less