Mercury Accumulation in Native Mammals of the Southeast

Mercury levels in tissues of mammals collected in Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina were compared using hair mercury concentration as an index of total mercury content. Bobcats (Lynx rufus), raccoons (Procyon lotor), opossum (Didelphis marsupialis) and gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) from the Lower Coastal Plain of Georgia had higher mercury levels than specimens from the Upper Coastal Plain of Piedmont. The highest individual mercury levels in raccoons and bobcats occurred in specimens from the Georgia Lower Coastal Plain flatwoods. Skeletal muscle and liver of individual raccoons and bobcats taken in the coastal flatwoods exceeded the 0.5 ppm limit for mercury in human foodstuffs. No pattern of mercury accumulation was detected in white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). Hair analysis revealed elevated mercury levels in mammals from a region exposed to mercury pollution. Mercury levels in wildlife exhibit a pattern similar to that of certain fallout radioisotopes such as 137Cs. These observations indicate that significant biomagnification of mercury may occur in native mammals in certain southeastern habitats.

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