Linking mercury, carbon, and nitrogen stable isotopes in Tibetan biota : Implications for using mercury stable isotopes as source tracers

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Original languageEnglish
Article number25394
Journal / PublicationScientific Reports
Volume6
Online published6 May 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes

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Abstract

Tibetan Plateau is located at a mountain region isolated from direct anthropogenic sources. Mercury concentrations and stable isotopes of carbon, nitrogen, and mercury were analyzed in sediment and biota for Nam Co and Yamdrok Lake. Biotic mercury concentrations and high food web magnification factors suggested that Tibetan Plateau is no longer a pristine site. The primary source of methylmercury was microbial production in local sediment despite the lack of direct methylmercury input. Strong ultraviolet intensity led to extensive photochemical reactions and up to 65% of methylmercury in water was photo-demethylated before entering the food webs. Biota displayed very high Δ199Hg signatures, with some highest value (8.6%) ever in living organisms. The δ202Hg and Δ199Hg in sediment and biotic samples increased with trophic positions (δ15N) and %methylmercury. Fish total length closely correlated to δ13C and Δ199Hg values due to dissimilar carbon sources and methylmercury pools in different living waters. This is the first mercury isotope study on high altitude lake ecosystems that demonstrated specific isotope fractionations of mercury under extreme environmental conditions.

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