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Optimizing stream water mercury sampling for calculation of fish bioaccumulation factors

May 14, 2013

Mercury (Hg) bioaccumulation factors (BAFs) for game fishes are widely employed for monitoring, assessment, and regulatory purposes. Mercury BAFs are calculated as the fish Hg concentration (Hgfish) divided by the water Hg concentration (Hgwater) and, consequently, are sensitive to sampling and analysis artifacts for fish and water. We evaluated the influence of water sample timing, filtration, and mercury species on the modeled relation between game fish and water mercury concentrations across 11 streams and rivers in five states in order to identify optimum Hgwater sampling approaches. Each model included fish trophic position, to account for a wide range of species collected among sites, and flow-weighted Hgwater estimates. Models were evaluated for parsimony, using Akaike’s Information Criterion. Better models included filtered water methylmercury (FMeHg) or unfiltered water methylmercury (UMeHg), whereas filtered total mercury did not meet parsimony requirements. Models including mean annual FMeHg were superior to those with mean FMeHg calculated over shorter time periods throughout the year. FMeHg models including metrics of high concentrations (80th percentile and above) observed during the year performed better, in general. These higher concentrations occurred most often during the growing season at all sites. Streamflow was significantly related to the probability of achieving higher concentrations during the growing season at six sites, but the direction of influence varied among sites. These findings indicate that streamwater Hg collection can be optimized by evaluating site-specific FMeHg - UMeHg relations, intra-annual temporal variation in their concentrations, and streamflow-Hg dynamics.