Compared to the extensive research on aquatic ecosystems, very little is known about the sources and trophic transfer of methylmercury (MeHg) in terrestrial ecosystems. In this study, we examine energy flow and trophic structure using stable carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) isotope ratios, respectively, and MeHg levels in basal resources and terrestrial invertebrates from four temperate forest ecosystems. We show that MeHg levels in biota increased significantly (p < 0.01) with δ13C and δ15N at all sites, implying the importance of both microbially processed diets (with increased δ13C) and trophic level (with increased δ15N) at which organisms feed, on MeHg levels in forest floor biota. The trophic magnification slopes of MeHg (defined as the slope of log10MeHg vs δ15N) for these forest floor food webs (0.20-0.28) were not significantly different (p > 0.05) from those observed for diverse temperate freshwater systems (0.24 ± 0.07; n = 78), demonstrating for the first time the nearly equivalent efficiencies with which MeHg moves up the food chain in these contrasting ecosystem types. Our results suggest that in situ production of MeHg within the forest floor and efficient biomagnification both elevate MeHg levels in carnivorous invertebrates in temperate forests, which can contribute to significant bioaccumulation of this neurotoxin in terrestrial apex predators.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This study was supported by a National Science Foundation award to M.T.K.T. (DEB-1354811) and J.D.B. (DEB-1353850), and funding from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and the University of Michigan. We thank G. Woerndle, P. Blum, J. Alva, and G. Rios-Sotelo for assisting sample collection in the field. We appreciate the constructive comments from two anonymous reviewers. We also acknowledge the logistical support of research field stations for this study, including Angelo Coast Range Reserve, University of Michigan Biological Station, Hubbard Brook Ecosystem Study, and Coweeta LTER.