Wildland fire can alter mercury (Hg) cycling on land and in adjacent aquatic environments. In addition to enhancing local atmospheric Hg redeposition, fire can influence terrestrial movement of Hg and other elements into lakes via runoff from burned upland soil. However, the impact of fire on water quality and the accumulation of Hg in fish remain equivocal. We investigated the effects of fire-specifically, a low-severity prescribed fire and moderate-severity wildfire-on youngof- the-year yellow perch (Perca flavescens) and lake chemistry in a small remote watershed in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northeastern Minnesota. We used a paired watershed approach: the fire-affected watershed was compared with an adjacent, unimpacted (reference) watershed. Prior to fire, upland organic horizons in the two study watersheds contained 1549 μg Hg m-2 on average. Despite a 19% decrease in upland organic horizon Hg stocks due to the moderate severity wildfire fire, fish Hg accumulation and lake productivity were not affected by fire in subsequent years. Instead, climate and lake water levels were the strongest predictors of lake chemistry and fish responses in our study lakes over 9 yr. Our results suggest that low- to moderate-severity wildland fire does not alter lake productivity or Hg accumulation in young-of-the-year yellow perch in these small, shallow lakes in the northern deciduous and boreal forest region.
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