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Methyl Mercury Formation in Hillslope Soils of Boreal Forests: The Role of Forest Harvest and Anaerobic Microbes
Umeå University, Faculty of Science and Technology, Department of Chemistry.
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2016 (English)In: Environmental Science and Technology, ISSN 0013-936X, E-ISSN 1520-5851, Vol. 50, 9177-9186 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Final harvest (clear-cutting) of coniferous boreal forests has been shown to increase streamwater concentrations andexport of the neurotoxin methyl mercury (MeHg) to freshwater ecosystems. Here, the spatial distribution of inorganic Hg and MeHgin soil as a consequence of clear-cutting is reported. A comparison ofsoils at similar positions along hillslopes in four 80 years old Norwayspruce (Picea abies) stands (REFs) with those in four similar stands subjected to clear-cutting (CCs) revealed significantly (p < 0.05)enhanced MeHg concentrations (ng g−1), MeHg areal masses (gha−1), and percent MeHg of HgTOT in O horizons of CCs locatedbetween 1 and 41 m from streams. Inorganic Hg measures did notdiffer between REFs and CCs at any position. The O horizon thickness did not differ between CCs and REFs, but the groundwater table and soil water content were significantly higher at CCs than at REFs. The largest difference in percent MeHg of HgTOT (12times higher at CCs compared to REFs, p = 0.003) was observed in concert with a significant enhancement in soil water content(p = 0.0003) at intermediate hillslope positions (20−38 m from stream), outside the stream riparian zone. Incubationexperiments demonstrated that soils having significantly enhanced soil pools of MeHg after clear-cutting also showed significantlyenhanced methylation potential as compared with similarly positioned soils in mature reference stands. The addition of inhibitorsdemonstrated that sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB) and methanogens were key methylators. Rates of demethylation did not differbetween CCs and REFs. Our results suggest that enhanced water saturation of organic soils providing readily available electrondonors stimulate Hg-methylating microbes to net formation and buildup of MeHg in O horizons after forest harvest.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
American Chemical Society (ACS), 2016. Vol. 50, 9177-9186 p.
National Category
Chemical Sciences
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-125673DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b00762OAI: diva2:970646
Available from: 2016-09-14 Created: 2016-09-14 Last updated: 2016-09-14

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