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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 504:253-263 (2014)  -  DOI:

Ontogenetic niche expansion influences mercury exposure in the Antarctic silverfish Pleuragramma antarcticum

Rebecka L. Brasso1,*, Jennifer Lang1, Christopher D. Jones2, Michael J. Polito3

1University of North Carolina Wilmington, Department of Biology and Marine Biology, 601 South College Rd, Wilmington, North Carolina 28403, USA
2Antarctic Ecosystem Research Division, NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center, 8901 La Jolla Shores Drive, La Jolla, California 92037, USA
3Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, 266 Woods Hole Road, Woods Hole, Massachusetts 02543, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: The effects of body size and age class on mercury concentrations were examined in the Antarctic silverfish Pleuragramma antarcticum, an ecologically important prey species in the Antarctic marine food web. Stable isotope analysis was used to investigate variation in mercury concentrations related to ontogenetic changes in diet and/or foraging habitat. Specimens of P. antarcticum were collected along the Ross Sea shelf in February 2008 and mercury concentrations in homogenized whole fish and muscle tissue were analyzed relative to standard length, age class (juvenile vs. adult) and isotopic measures of diet (δ15N) and foraging habitat (δ13C). While mercury concentration in muscle tended to be higher than whole-fish values, concentrations in these 2 matrices were highly correlated. A positive relationship was found between standard length and mercury concentration; further, adult P. antarcticum had significantly higher mercury concentrations than juveniles. Adult mercury concentrations were also more variable: the coefficient of variation in adult muscle (58.3%) was more than twice that found in juveniles (25.0%). Though no linear relationships were detected between standard length and δ15N or δ13C values when all individuals were combined, juvenile and adult size classes of fish differed in their isotopic niche position and width. In addition, δ13C values explained the greatest amount of variation in whole-fish mercury across all age classes and for adult fish alone. By expanding both the horizontal and vertical components of their foraging habitat, adult P. antarcticum may have a wider range of exposure to mercury compared with juvenile fish.

KEY WORDS: Mercury · Ontogenetic shift · Trophic position · Stable isotope analysis · Foraging niche · Antarctic silverfish

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Cite this article as: Brasso RL, Lang J, Jones CD, Polito MJ (2014) Ontogenetic niche expansion influences mercury exposure in the Antarctic silverfish Pleuragramma antarcticum. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 504:253-263.

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