Metabolically diverse microorganisms mediate methylmercury formation under nitrate-reducing conditions in a dynamic hydroelectric reservoir
Brownlee Reservoir is a mercury (Hg)-impaired hydroelectric reservoir that exhibits dynamic hydrological and geochemical conditions and is located within the Hells Canyon Complex in Idaho, USA. Methylmercury (MeHg) contamination in fish is a concern in the reservoir. While MeHg production has historically been attributed to sulfate-reducing bacteria and methanogenic archaea, microorganisms carrying the hgcA gene are taxonomically and metabolically diverse and the major biogeochemical cycles driving mercury (Hg) methylation are not well understood. In this study, Hg speciation and redox-active compounds were measured throughout Brownlee Reservoir across the stratified period in four consecutive years (2016–2019) to identify the location where and redox conditions under which MeHg is produced. Metagenomic sequencing was performed on a subset of samples to characterize the microbial community with hgcA and identify possible links between biogeochemical cycles and MeHg production. Biogeochemical profiles suggested in situ water column Hg methylation was the major source of MeHg. These profiles, combined with genome-resolved metagenomics focused on hgcA-carrying microbes, indicated that MeHg production occurs in this system under nitrate- or manganese-reducing conditions, which were previously thought to preclude Hg-methylation. Using this multidisciplinary approach, we identified the cascading effects of interannual variability in hydrology on the redox status, microbial metabolic strategies, abundance and metabolic diversity of Hg methylators, and ultimately MeHg concentrations throughout the reservoir. This work expands the known conditions conducive to producing MeHg and suggests that the Hg-methylation mitigation efforts by nitrate or manganese amendment may be unsuccessful in some locations.
|Metabolically diverse microorganisms mediate methylmercury formation under nitrate-reducing conditions in a dynamic hydroelectric reservoir
|Benjamin D. Peterson, Brett A. Poulin, David P. Krabbenhoft, Michael T. Tate, Austin K. Baldwin, Jesse Naymik, Nick Gastelecutto, Katherine D. McMahon
|International Society for Microbial Ecology Journal
|USGS Publications Warehouse
|Wisconsin Water Science Center; Upper Midwest Water Science Center