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Mercury in Wild Fish from High-Altitude Aquatic Ecosystems in the Tibetan Plateau

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journal contribution
posted on 06.05.2014, 00:00 by Qianggong Zhang, Ke Pan, Shichang Kang, Aijia Zhu, Wen-Xiong Wang
Our understanding of the biogeochemistry of mercury (Hg) in high-altitude aquatic environments remains limited. The Tibetan Plateau (TP) is one of the Earth’s most significant continental-scale high lands, yet much remains unknown about the Hg bioaccumulation and biomagnification in these pristine ecosystems. In this study, 166 wild fish samples of 13 species were collected from 13 rivers and lakes across the southern TP. Total Hg (THg) and methyl-Hg (MeHg) concentrations in the axial muscle of fish ranged from 25.1 to 1218 ng g–1 of wet weight (median ± average deviation of 100.5 ± 149.2 ng g–1) and from 24.9 to 1196 ng g–1 of wet weight (median ± average deviation of 90.7 ± 137.0 ng g–1), respectively. Hg concentrations varied greatly within and between species. The fish Hg concentrations were then linked to the limited available environmental Hg data and special geochemical characteristics in the region, such as Hg loading, pH, low temperature, and high ultraviolet (UV). The long lifespan and slow growth of the fish under the low-productivity environments may be the major biological factors that help to build up the fish Hg levels comparable to those observed in wild fish growing in human-impacted areas. δ13C signals suggested that pelagic fish had higher Hg concentrations, but no relationship was found between the Hg concentrations and the trophic levels. Zooplankton and benthic amphipods had typically higher percentages of MeHg compared to the previously reported values, suggesting the efficient transfer of MeHg from the base of the aquatic food web. This study sheds some light on the geochemical and biological controls of Hg bioaccumulation in fish and biomagnification in the aquatic food web in arid high-altitude environments.