US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 65: 2351–2366 (2008)


Physical and biogeochemical characteristics of the aquatic environment that affect growth dynamics of phytoplankton and the zooplankton communities that depend on them may also affect uptake of methylmercury (MeHg) into the pelagic food web of oligotrophic reservoirs. We evaluated changes in the quality and quantity of suspended particulate material, zooplankton taxonomy, and MeHg concentrations coincident with seasonal changes in water storage of a mining-impacted reservoir in northern California, USA. MeHg concentrations in bulk zooplankton increased from 4 ng·g–1 at low water to 77 ± 6.1 ng·g–1 at high water and were positively correlated with cladoceran biomass (r = 0.66) and negatively correlated with rotifer biomass (r = –0.65). Stable isotope analysis revealed overall higher MeHg concentrations in the pelagic-based food web relative to the benthic-based food web. Statistically similar patterns of trophic enrichment of MeHg (slopes) for the pelagic and benthic food webs and slightly higher MeHg concentrations in zooplankton than in benthic invertebrates suggest that the difference in MeHg bioaccumulation among trophic pathways is set at the base of the food webs. These results suggest an important role for plankton dynamics in driving the MeHg content of zooplankton and ultimately MeHg bioaccumulation in top predators in pelagic-based food webs.