Water striders (family Gerridae): mercury sentinels in small freshwater ecosystems
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To circumvent some of the previous limitations associated with contaminant-monitoring programs, we tested the suitability of the water strider (Hemiptera: Gerridae) as a mercury sentinel by comparing total mercury concentrations in water striders and brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) from a variety of stream sites in New Brunswick, Canada. There was a strong association between the two variables across sites (r2 = 0.81, P < 0.001) in systems where both atmospheric deposition and a point source (an abandoned gold mine) were likely contributing to ambient mercury levels. In a small stream draining the gold mine tailings pile, water striders had mercury concentrations an order of magnitude higher than those from reference locations. Temporal variation at three southern New Brunswick stream sites was non-significant. These results suggest that water strider mercury levels accurately quantify food chain entry of the element. The use of sentinel species holds great potential for expanding contaminant-monitoring programs. Water striders accurately reflect the entry of mercury in food chains of small freshwater systems.