Exposure to methylmercury and inorganic mercury in the food does not lead to trophic magnification in the sea star Asterias rubens

Poul Bjerregaard, Lise Marianne Møller

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Methylmercury accumulated at the top of aquatic food chains constitutes a toxicological risk to humans and other top predators. Biomagnification of methylmercury takes place among vertebrates at the higher trophic levels, but this process is less elucidated in benthic invertebrates at the lower trophic levels. Therefore, we investigated the accumulation from food and elimination of methylmercury and inorganic mercury in the benthic sea star Asterias rubens (L.) – a representative of trophic level ~3 - in laboratory experiments. Sea stars fed over 49 days with contaminated mussels (Mytilus edulis) accumulate methylmercury and inorganic mercury to the highest concentrations in the digestive glands, the pyloric caeca, less in stomach, gonad, tube feet, aboral body wall and not to detectable levels in the coelomic fluid. Concerning whole body contents, steady states were reached for both methylmercury and inorganic mercury during the 7-week feeding period and the sea stars reached approximately ½ and ¼ of the concentrations in the mussel food for the two mercury forms, respectively. Half-lives for the elimination of the two mercury forms varied between 45 and 173 days in a 140-d elimination period following the feeding period; inorganic mercury was eliminated faster than methylmercury. Examination of total mercury concentrations in field-collected sea stars confirmed this lack of trophic magnification in relation to the major food items, soft parts of molluscs. We suggest that mercury is not trophically magnified in sea stars 1) because they eliminate methylmercury faster than larger fish and decapod crustaceans and 2) maybe more importantly, because inorganic mercury with its faster elimination constitutes a larger fraction of the total mercury in the food at the lower trophic levels - as opposed to methylmercury which dominates at the higher trophic levels.
Original languageEnglish
Article number117401
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 15. Sept 2021


  • Inorganic mercury
  • Methylmercury
  • Oral exposure
  • Sea star
  • Trophic magnification


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