Complex life histories alter patterns of mercury exposure and accumulation in linked aquatic-terrestrial food webs: an amphibian example


Quantifying how contaminants change across life cycles of species who undergo metamorphosis is critical to assessing risk to organisms and their consumers. Pond-breeding amphibians can dominate aquatic animal biomass as larvae and are terrestrial prey as metamorphs and adults. Thus, amphibians can be vectors of mercury accumulation in both aquatic and terrestrial food webs. However, it is still unclear how mercury concentrations are affected by exogenous (e.g., habitat or diet) vs. endogenous factors (e.g., catabolism during hibernation) as amphibians undergo large diet shifts and periods of fasting during ontogeny. We measured total mercury (THg), methylmercury (MeHg), and isotopic compositions (?13C, ?15N) in boreal chorus frogs (Pseudacris maculata) across five life stages in two metapopulations in Colorado, USA. We found large differences in MeHg concentrations and percent of THg as MeHg among life stages. Frog MeHg concentrations spiked after metamorphosis and hibernation coinciding with the most energetically demanding stages of their life cycle. Transitions among life stages led to large step changes in mercury concentrations – the endogenous processes of metamorphosis and hibernation biomagnified MeHg, decoupling isotopic compositions and MeHg concentrations. These step changes are not often considered in conventional expectations of how food web processes predict trophic transfer, accumulation, and transport of contaminants. ?

Publication details
Published Date: 2022-12-31
Outlet/Publisher: Environmental Science and Technology
Media Format: .PDF

ARMI Organizational Units:
Rocky Mountains, Southern - Biology
Place Names:
amphibians; mercury
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