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Ecological change drives a decline in mercury concentrations in Southern Beaufort Sea polar bears

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Full Publication: https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.7b00812

Product Type: Journal Article

Year: 2017

Authors: McKinney, M. A., T. C. Atwood, S. Pedro, and E. Peacock


Suggested Citation:
McKinney, M. A., T. C. Atwood, S. Pedro, and E. Peacock. 2017. Ecological change drives a decline in mercury concentrations in Southern Beaufort Sea polar bears. Environmental Science and Technology 51(14):7814-7822. doi:10.1021/acs.est.7b00812

Abstract


We evaluated total mercury (THg) concentrations and trends in polar bears from the southern Beaufort Sea subpopulation from 2004 to 2011. Hair THg concentrations ranged widely among individuals from 0.6 to 13.3 μg g-1 dry weight (mean: 3.5 ± 0.2 μg g-1). Concentrations differed among sex and age classes: solitary adult females ≈ adult females with cubs ≈ subadults > adult males ≈ yearlings > cubs-of-the-year ≈ 2 year old dependent cubs. No variation was observed between spring and fall samples. For spring-sampled adults, THg concentrations declined by 13% per year, contrasting recent trends observed for other Western Hemispheric Arctic biota. Concentrations also declined by 15% per year considering adult males only, while a slower, nonsignificant decrease of 4.4% per year was found for adult females. Lower THg concentrations were associated with higher body mass index (BMI) and higher proportions of lower trophic position food resources consumed. Because BMI and diet were related, and the relationship to THg was strongest for BMI, trends were re-evaluated adjusting for BMI as the covariate. The adjusted annual decline was not significant. These findings indicate that changes in foraging ecology, not declining environmental concentrations of mercury, are driving short-term declines in THg concentrations in southern Beaufort Sea polar bears.

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