Biostrome communities and mercury and selenium bioaccumulation in the Great Salt Lake (Utah, USA)

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Journal/Book Title/Conference

Science of the Total Environment



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biostrome, mercury, selenium, great salt lake

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The Great Salt Lake has a salinity near 150 g/L and is habitat for over 200 species of migratory birds. The diet of many of these birds is dependent on the food web of carbonaceous biostromes (stromatolites) that cover 260 km(2) of the lake's littoral zone. We investigated the biostrome community to understand their production processes and to assess whether they are a potential vector for bioconcentration of high mercury and selenium levels in the lake. The periphyton community of the biostromes was >99% colonial cyanobacteria. Periphyton chlorophyll levels averaged 900 mg m(-2) or nine times that of the lake's phytoplankton. Lake-wide estimates of chlorophyll suggest that their production is about 30% of that of the phytoplankton. Brine fly (Ephydra gracilis) larval densities on the biostromes increased from 7000 m(-2) in June to 20000m(-2) in December. Pupation and adult emergence halted in October and larvae of various instars overwintered at temperatures <5°C. Mean total dissolved and dissolved methyl mercury concentrations in water were 5.0 and 1.2 ηg L(-1). Total mercury concentrations in the periphyton, fly larvae, pupae, and adults were, respectively, 152, 189, 379 and 659 ηg g(-1) dry weight, suggesting that bioconcentration is only moderate in the short food web and through fly developmental stages. However, common goldeneye ducks (Bucephala clangula) that feed primarily on brine fly larvae at the Great Salt Lake had concentrations near 8000 ηg Hg g(-1) dry weight in muscle tissue. Data from a previous study indicated that selenium concentrations in periphyton, brine fly larvae and goldeneye liver tissue were high (1700, 1200 and 24,000 ηg g(-1), respectively) and Hg:Se molar ratios were <1.0 in all tissues, suggesting that the high mercury concentration in the ducks may be partially detoxified by combining with selenium. The study demonstrated that the high mercury levels in the Great Salt Lake are routed through the biostrome community resulting in invertebrate prey that may provide health risks for birds and humans that consume them.

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