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Elevated mercury levels in biota along an agricultural land use gradient in the Oldman River basin, Alberta

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This study examines relationships between anthropogenic influence and mercury concentrations in biota along an elevational river gradient with intensifying agricultural and urban land use in the Oldman River basin, Alberta, Canada. We use nitrogen stable isotope signatures (δ15N) indicative of anthropogenic sources of N to indicate the extent of land use influence on the river ecosystem. δ15N values in biota increased by 4.2‰ along the river gradient, consistent with increasing nitrogen sources from sewage and manure. Mercury concentrations in longnose dace (Rhinichthys cataractae), suckers (Catostomus catostomus, Catostomus commersonii), and net-spinning caddisfly larvae, the most abundant macroinvertebrates, all increased downstream; dace ranged from 0.023 ppm total mercury below the Oldman reservoir to 0.10 ppm total mercury downstream of Lethbridge. Dace consumed mostly insect larvae, and no increase in trophic position (as estimated by δ15N) was observed along the gradient. Fish directly exposed to agricultural and urban effluents had significantly lower mercury levels, or showed no difference, relative to reference sites, which suggests that these effluents play no significant role in elevating mercury levels in river food webs.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: July 28, 2012

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  • Published continuously since 1901 (under various titles), this monthly journal is the primary publishing vehicle for the multidisciplinary field of aquatic sciences. It publishes perspectives (syntheses, critiques, and re-evaluations), discussions (comments and replies), articles, and rapid communications, relating to current research on cells, organisms, populations, ecosystems, or processes that affect aquatic systems. The journal seeks to amplify, modify, question, or redirect accumulated knowledge in the field of fisheries and aquatic science. Occasional supplements are dedicated to single topics or to proceedings of international symposia.
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