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Mercury and water level management in lakes of northern Minnesota

April 23, 2021

Water level (WL) fluctuations substantially alter the fauna, flora, and microbial community of nearshore aquatic ecosystems. Water level management therefore has the potential to strongly influence a wide variety of ecosystem processes. Many northern temperate lake food webs experience substantial methylmercury contamination, which is partially mediated by the action of sulfate-reducing bacteria occurring in sediments that are periodically inundated. For lakes with elevated methylmercury, WL management could be designed to reduce methylmercury contamination. At the lake scale, this concept is supported by studies that identified statistical associations between fish mercury content and water level (WL) fluctuations. Here, we compiled a long-term dataset (1997–2015) of mercury content in young-of-year Yellow Perch (Perca flavescens) from six lakes on the border of the United States and Canada and examined whether mercury content was associated with WL fluctuation. Many WL metrics covary and appear to have strong associations with Yellow Perch mercury. However, these associations appear to vary by lake, and lake-specific models are needed to identify relationships between WL fluctuation and Yellow Perch mercury content. We used partial least-squares regression (PLSR) to identify the associations between Yellow Perch mercury content and WL metrics, temperature, and annual deposition data for lakes in northern Minnesota. These PLSR models not only showed some variation among lakes, but also supported strong associations between WL fluctuations and annual variation in Yellow Perch mercury content. The study lakes underwent a change in WL management in 2000, when winter WL minimums were increased by about 1 m in five of the six study lakes, which reduced annual WL fluctuation on those lakes. Using the PLSR models, we estimated how this change in WL management would have affected Yellow Perch mercury content. In four of the five study lakes in which annual WL fluctuation was reduced in 2000, the change in WL management likely reduced Yellow Perch mercury content, relative to the previous WL management regime.

Publication Year 2021
Title Mercury and water level management in lakes of northern Minnesota
DOI 10.1002/ecs2.3465
Authors James H. Larson, Ryan P. Maki, Victoria Christensen, Enrika Hlavacek, Mark B. Sandheinrich, Jaime F. LeDuc, Claire Kissane, Brent C. Knights
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecosphere
Index ID 70222508
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center