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Mercury exposure in mammalian mesopredators inhabiting a brackish marsh

October 12, 2020

Bioaccumulation of environmental contaminants in mammalian predators can serve as an indicator of ecosystem health. We examined mercury concentrations of raccoons (Procyon lotor; n = 37 individuals) and striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis; n = 87 individuals) in Suisun Marsh, California, a large brackish marsh that is characterized by contiguous tracts of tidal marsh and seasonally impounded wetlands. Mean (standard error; range) total mercury concentrations in adult hair grown from 2015 to 2018 were 28.50 μg/g dw (3.05 μg/g dw; range: 4.46 – 81.01 μg/g dw) in raccoons and 4.85 μg/g dw (0.54 μg/g dw; range: 1.52 – 27.02 μg/g dw) in striped skunks. We reviewed mammalian hair mercury concentrations in the literature and raccoon mercury concentrations in Suisun Marsh were among the highest observed for wild mammals. Although striped skunk hair mercury concentrations were 83% lower than raccoons, they were higher than proposed background levels for mercury in mesopredator hair (1 – 5 μg/g). Hair mercury concentrations in skunks and raccoons were not related to animal size, but mercury concentrations were higher in skunks in poorer body condition. Large inter-annual differences in hair mercury concentrations suggest that methylmercury exposure to mammalian predators varied among years. Mercury concentrations of raccoon hair grown in 2017 were 2.7 times greater than hair grown in 2015, 1.7 times greater than hair grown in 2016, and 1.6 times greater than hair grown in 2018. Annual mean raccoon and skunk hair mercury concentrations increased with wetland habitat area. Furthermore, during 2017, raccoon hair mercury concentrations increased with the proportion of raccoon home ranges that was wetted habitat, as quantified using global positioning system (GPS) collars. The elevated mercury concentrations we observed in raccoons and skunks suggest that other wildlife at similar or higher trophic positions may also be exposed to elevated methylmercury bioaccumulation in brackish marshes.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2021
Title Mercury exposure in mammalian mesopredators inhabiting a brackish marsh
DOI 10.1016/j.envpol.2020.115808
Authors Sarah H. Peterson, Joshua T. Ackerman, C. Alex Hartman, Michael L. Casazza, Cliff L. Feldheim, Mark P. Herzog
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Environmental Pollution
Index ID 70217295
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center