Mercury in the Northern Crayfish, Orconectes virilis (Hagen), in New England, USA

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Biologists and policy makers continue to seek environmental correlates of mercury bioavailability in aquatic ecosystems. In this study, we assessed the effects of drainage basin, habitat type, size class, and sex on mercury concentrations in the northern crayfish, Orconectes virilis (Hagen). Drainage basin, habitat type, and size class had significant effects on mercury concentration in crayfish tail muscle even though animals from roughly half the sites examined had mean mercury values at or below expected background levels. The low observed mercury values in crayfish tail muscle indicate a low consumptive risk. Contrary to expectations, crayfish from brooks had higher mercury concentrations than animals from other habitat types, possibly as a result of point source contamination or varying diet compositions among habitats. We suggest that crayfish represent a good indicator of mercury bioavailability in aquatic ecosystems and provide a synthesis for lower food webs. Our understanding of mercury dynamics in lower food webs has been hindered by an under appreciation of the complexity in foraging habits of macroinvertebrates. Further studies focusing on benthos with well-understood life histories and foraging behavior are essential to improve our understanding of mercury transfer and bioavailability through aquatic systems.

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