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Insects in contact with mercury transformed into the terrestrial food web ?

A ChronoEnvironmental study has made it possible to better understand the role of insects associated with phytomanagement devices in the dissemination of mercury in the terrestrial environment. This work, published in Environmental Science & Technology, was selected and published as a Research Highlight by Nature Sustainability.

As plants and associated insects are at the bottom of some terrestrial food webs, they are the primary contributors to mercury (Hg) fluxes in ecosystems. In addition to the trophic position of these organisms, factors related to their life traits have been hypothesized to influence their exposure to Hg. This study investigates the transfer of Hg in a soil-nettle-insect system and the insect-related factors affecting their Hg concentrations in a revegetated chlor-alkali landfill. Twenty-three insect species were identified and classified according to their life traits, their relationship with nettle, and their morphological characteristics. We observed low total mercury (THg) concentrations in nettles, with only 1% methylmercury (MeHg) being detected, while concentrations ranged from 5 to 3700 μg/kg dry wt. in insects with a MeHg percentage of up to 75%. The nettle-related insects were primarily exposed to Hg through the food web with significant biomagnification, particularly at the level of secondary predators. Within the nettle-unrelated group, the insect habitat was the most explanatory factor, with the highest enrichment being for the insects that spent part of their cycle in direct contact with Hg sources. Therefore, these insects require special attention because they are an essential vector of Hg transfer for terrestrial top predators.
Insect Life Traits Are Key Factors in Mercury Accumulation and Transfer within the Terrestrial Food Web. Loïc Yung, Coralie Bertheau, David Cazaux, Nicole Regier, Vera I. Slaveykova, Michel Chalot, Environ. Sci. Technol. 2019, 53, 19, 11122-11132

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