Heidi K. Swanson


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Estimates, spatial variability, and environmental drivers of mercury biomagnification rates through lake food webs in the Canadian subarctic
Mehdi Moslemi-Aqdam, George C. Low, Mike Low, Brian Laird, Brian A. Branfireun, Heidi K. Swanson
Environmental Research, Volume 217

Biomagnification of mercury (Hg) through lake food webs is understudied in rapidly changing northern regions, where wild-caught subsistence fish are critical to food security. We investigated estimates and among-lake variability of Hg biomagnification rates (BMR), relationships between Hg BMR and Hg levels in subsistence fish, and environmental drivers of Hg BMR in ten remote subarctic lakes in Northwest Territories, Canada. Lake-specific linear regressions between Hg concentrations (total Hg ([THg]) in fish and methyl Hg ([MeHg]) in primary consumers) and baseline-adjusted δ15N ratios were significant (p < 0.001, r2 = 0.58–0.88), indicating biomagnification of Hg through food webs of all studied lakes. Quantified using the slope of Hg-δ15N regressions, Hg BMR ranged from 0.16 to 0.25, with mean ± standard deviation of 0.20 ± 0.03). Using fish [MeHg] rather than [THg] lowered estimates of Hg BMR by ∼10%, suggesting that the use of [THg] as a proxy for [MeHg] in fish can influence estimates of Hg BMR. Among-lake variability of size-standardized [THg] in resident fish species from different trophic guilds, namely Lake Whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis) and Northern Pike (Esox lucius), was not significantly explained by among-lake variability in Hg BMR. Stepwise multiple regressions indicated that among-lake variability of Hg BMR was best explained by a positive relationship with catchment forest cover (p = 0.009, r2 = 0.59), likely reflecting effects of forest cover on water chemistry of downstream lakes and ultimately, concentrations of biomagnifying MeHg (and percent MeHg of total Hg) in resident biota. These findings improve our understanding of Hg biomagnification in remote subarctic lakes.


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Understanding among-lake variability of mercury concentrations in Northern Pike (Esox lucius): A whole-ecosystem study in subarctic lakes
Mehdi Moslemi-Aqdam, Leanne F. Baker, Jennifer L. Baltzer, Brian A. Branfireun, Marlene S. Evans, Brian Laird, George C. Low, Mike Low, Heidi K. Swanson
Science of The Total Environment, Volume 822

Mercury concentrations ([Hg]) in fish reflect complex biogeochemical and ecological interactions that occur at a range of spatial and biological scales. Elucidating these interactions is crucial to understanding and predicting fish [Hg], particularly at northern latitudes, where environmental perturbations are having profound effects on land-water-animal interactions, and where fish are a critical subsistence food source. Using data from eleven subarctic lakes that span an area of ~60,000 km2 in the Dehcho Region of Northwest Territories (Canada), we investigated how trophic ecology and growth rates of fish, lake water chemistry, and catchment characteristics interact to affect [Hg] in Northern Pike (Esox lucius), a predatory fish of widespread subsistence and commercial importance. Results from linear regression and piecewise structural equation models showed that 83% of among-lake variability in Northern Pike [Hg] was explained by fish growth rates (negative) and concentrations of methyl Hg ([MeHg]) in benthic invertebrates (positive). These variables were in turn influenced by concentrations of dissolved organic carbon, MeHg (water), and total Hg (sediment) in lakes, which were ultimately driven by catchment characteristics. Lakes in relatively larger catchments and with more temperate/subpolar needleleaf and mixed forests had higher [Hg] in Northern Pike. Our results provide a plausible mechanistic understanding of how interacting processes at scales ranging from whole catchments to individual organisms influence fish [Hg], and give insight into factors that could be considered for prioritizing lakes for monitoring in subarctic regions.

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Hair to blood mercury concentration ratios and a retrospective hair segmental mercury analysis in the Northwest Territories, Canada
Sara Packull-McCormick, Mylène Ratelle, Christina Lam, Jean Napenas, Michèle Bouchard, Heidi K. Swanson, Brian Laird
Environmental Research, Volume 203

Concentrations of total mercury were measured in blood and hair samples collected as part of a human biomonitoring project conducted in First Nations communities of the Mackenzie Valley, Northwest Territories, Canada. Hair (n = 443) and blood (n = 276) samples were obtained from six communities in the Dehcho region and three communities in the Sahtú region of the Mackenzie Valley. The aim of this paper was to calculate hair to blood mercury ratios (for matched samples) and determine if: 1) ratios differed significantly between the two regions; 2) ratios differed from the 250:1 ratio proposed by the WHO; and, 3) point estimates of hair to blood mercury ratios could be used to estimate blood mercury concentrations. In addition, this paper aims to determine if there were seasonal patterns in hair mercury concentrations in these regions and if so, if patterns were related to among-season variability in fish consumption. The majority of mercury levels in hair and blood were below relevant health-based guidance values. The geometric mean hair (most recent segment) to blood mercury ratio (stratified by region) was 619:1 for the Dehcho region and 1220:1 for the Sahtú region. Mean log-transformed hair to blood mercury ratios were statistically significantly different between the two regions. Hair to blood ratios calculated in this study were far higher (2-5 times higher) than those typically reported in the literature and there was a large amount of inter-individual variation in calculated ratios (range: 114:1 to 4290:1). Using the 250:1 ratio derived by the World Health Organisation to estimate blood mercury concentrations from hair mercury concentrations would substantially over-estimate blood mercury concentrations in the studied regions. However, geometric mean site-specific hair to blood mercury ratios can provide estimates of measures of central tendency for blood mercury concentrations from hair mercury concentrations at a population level. Mercury concentrations were determined in segments of long hair samples to examine exposure of participants to mercury over the past year. Hair segments were assigned to six time periods and the highest hair mercury concentrations were generally observed in hair segments that aligned with September/October and November/December, whereas the lowest hair mercury concentrations were aligned with March/April and May/June. Mean log-transformed hair mercury concentrations were statistically significantly different between time periods. Between time periods (e.g., September/October vs. March/April), the geometric mean mercury concentration in hair differed by up to 0.22 μg/g, and the upper margins of mercury exposure (e.g., 95th percentile of hair mercury) varied by up to 0.86 μg/g. Results from self-reported fish consumption frequency questionnaires (subset of participants; n = 170) showed total fish intake peaked in late summer, decreased during the winter, and then increased during the spring. Visual assessment of results indicated that mean hair mercury concentrations followed this same seasonal pattern. Results from mixed effects models, however, indicated that variability in hair mercury concentrations among time periods was not best explained by total fish consumption frequency. Instead, seasonal trends in hair mercury concentrations may be more related to the consumption of specific fish species (rather than total wild-harvested fish in general). Future work should examine whether seasonal changes in the consumption of specific fish species are associated with seasonal changes in hair mercury concentrations.

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Contributions and perspectives of Indigenous Peoples to the study of mercury in the Arctic
Magali Houde, Eva M. Krümmel, Tero Mustonen, Jeremy R. Brammer, Tanya M. Brown, John Chételat, Parnuna Egede Dahl, Runé Dietz, Marlene S. Evans, Mary Gamberg, Marie-Josée Gauthier, José Gérin-Lajoie, Aviaja Zenia Edna Lyberth Hauptmann, Joel P. Heath, Dominique Henri, Jane L. Kirk, Brian Laird, Mélanie Lemire, Ann Eileen Lennert, Robert J. Letcher, Sarah Lord, Lisa L. Loseto, Gwyneth A. MacMillan, Stefan Mikaelsson, E. A. Mutter, Todd M. O’Hara, Sonja K. Ostertag, Martin D. Robards, Vyacheslav Shadrin, Margery A. Smith, Raphaela Stimmelmayr, Enooyaq Sudlovenick, Heidi K. Swanson, Philippe J. Thomas, Virginia K. Walker, Alex Whiting
Science of The Total Environment, Volume 841

Arctic Indigenous Peoples are among the most exposed humans when it comes to foodborne mercury (Hg). In response, Hg monitoring and research have been on-going in the circumpolar Arctic since about 1991; this work has been mainly possible through the involvement of Arctic Indigenous Peoples. The present overview was initially conducted in the context of a broader assessment of Hg research organized by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme. This article provides examples of Indigenous Peoples' contributions to Hg monitoring and research in the Arctic, and discusses approaches that could be used, and improved upon, when carrying out future activities. Over 40 mercury projects conducted with/by Indigenous Peoples are identified for different circumpolar regions including the U.S., Canada, Greenland, Sweden, Finland, and Russia as well as instances where Indigenous Knowledge contributed to the understanding of Hg contamination in the Arctic. Perspectives and visions of future Hg research as well as recommendations are presented. The establishment of collaborative processes and partnership/co-production approaches with scientists and Indigenous Peoples, using good communication practices and transparency in research activities, are key to the success of research and monitoring activities in the Arctic. Sustainable funding for community-driven monitoring and research programs in Arctic countries would be beneficial and assist in developing more research/monitoring capacity and would promote a more holistic approach to understanding Hg in the Arctic. These activities should be well connected to circumpolar/international initiatives to ensure broader availability of the information and uptake in policy development.


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Catchments affect growth rate of Northern Pike, Esox lucius, in subarctic lakes
Mehdi Moslemi-Aqdam, George C. Low, Mike Low, Brian A. Branfireun, Heidi K. Swanson
Aquatic Sciences, Volume 83, Issue 3

A comprehensive understanding of how interactions between catchments and downstream lakes affect fish growth rate is lacking for many species and systems, yet is necessary for predicting impacts of environmental change on productivity of freshwater fish populations. We investigated among-lake variability in growth rate of Northern Pike (Esox lucius), a fish species of widespread subsistence and commercial importance. Northern Pike were captured from 11 subarctic lakes that span 60,000 km2 and four ecoregions in the Dehcho Region of the Northwest Territories, Canada. Growth rates were related to stable isotope ratios and to lake and catchment physicochemistry. Growth, modelled using increment widths (n = 2953) measured on cleithra (n = 432), was significantly slower (p < 0.001, adj. r2 = 0.78) in lakes subject to greater inferred catchment influence, which was quantified using a combination of lake and catchment characteristics. While Northern Pike growth rate was not related to δ15N, it was positively related to δ13C (p < 0.001, adj. r2 = 0.75). Further analyses revealed that benthic invertebrates in lakes subject to greater inferred catchment influence had more depleted δ13C ratios, and we posit that Northern Pike growth is slower in these lakes because terrestrially derived organic matter has relatively lower nutritional value and bioaccessibility, but further research is necessary. By linking current among-lake variability in Northern Pike growth to trophic ecology and to both lake and catchment physicochemical data, results inform predictions of how future changes to subarctic lakes and catchments may affect fish growth and productivity.


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Diversity of diatoms, benthic macroinvertebrates, and fish varies in response to different environmental correlates in Arctic rivers across North America
Jennifer Lento, Sarah M. Laske, Isabelle Lavoie, Daniel Bogan, Robert B. Brua, Stéphane Campeau, K. S. Chin, Joseph M. Culp, Brianna Levenstein, Michael Power, Émilie Saulnier‐Talbot, Rebecca Shaftel, Heidi K. Swanson, Matthew S. Whitman, Christian E. Zimmerman
Freshwater Biology, Volume 67, Issue 1

Abstract Climate change poses a significant threat to Arctic freshwater biodiversity, but impacts depend upon the strength of organism response to climate‐related drivers. Currently, there is insufficient knowledge about Arctic freshwater biodiversity patterns to guide assessment, prediction, and management of biodiversity change. As part of the Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program's first freshwater assessment, we evaluated diversity of diatoms, benthic macroinvertebrates, and fish in North American Arctic rivers. Alpha diversity was assessed in relation to temperature, water chemistry, bedrock geology, and glaciation history to identify important environmental correlates. Biotic composition was compared among groups to evaluate response to environmental gradients. Macroinvertebrate α‐diversity declined strongly with increasing latitude from 48°N to 82°N, whereas diatom and fish diversity peaked around 70°N without a clear latitudinal decline. Macroinvertebrate diversity was significantly positively related to air temperature. Diatom diversity was related to bedrock geology and temperature, whereas fish diversity was related to glaciation history. Fish and macroinvertebrate assemblages differed between sites in western Canada, where invertebrate composition was more variable, and Alaska, where fish composition was more variable. In sites with both diatom and macroinvertebrate data, diatom composition was distinct in Alaska, where richness was highest in former glacial refugia. Macroinvertebrate composition was distinct in lowest‐latitude eastern and high‐latitude western Canadian sites where temperature was highest. Temperature, precipitation, geology, calcium, and substrate size were important environmental correlates for diatoms and macroinvertebrates, although the relative importance of each correlate differed. Diatom taxa were most strongly associated with water chemistry, whereas benthic invertebrate composition related most strongly to precipitation and temperature. This large‐scale study provides the most substantial integration and analysis of river diatom, macroinvertebrate, and fish data from the North American Arctic to date. Findings suggest that macroinvertebrates will show the strongest response to climate‐related shifts in temperature, whereas diatoms and fish are more likely to respond to climate‐induced shifts in nutrients and hydraulic connectivity. However, significant gaps in data coverage limited our ability to reliably evaluate spatial patterns and detect change. These gaps could be reduced by improving collaborative efforts between the U.S.A. and Canada to harmonise future monitoring.


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Design of a human biomonitoring community-based project in the Northwest Territories Mackenzie Valley, Canada, to investigate the links between nutrition, contaminants and country foods
Mylène Ratelle, Matthew Laird, Shannon E. Majowicz, Kelly Skinner, Heidi K. Swanson, Brian Laird
International Journal of Circumpolar Health, Volume 77, Issue 1

Community-based projects place emphasis on a collaborative approach and facilitate research among Indigenous populations regarding local issues and challenges, such as traditional foods consumption, climate change and health safety. Country foods (locally harvested fish, game birds, land animals and plants), which contribute to improved food security, can also be a primary route of contaminant exposure among populations in remote regions. A community-based project was launched in the Dehcho and Sahtù regions of the Northwest Territories (Canada) to: 1) assess contaminants exposure and nutrition status; 2) investigate the role of country food on nutrient and contaminant levels and 3) understand the determinants of message perception on this issue. Consultation with community members, leadership, local partners and researchers was essential to refine the design of the project and implement it in a culturally relevant way. This article details the design of a community-based biomonitoring study that investigates country food use, contaminant exposure and nutritional status in Canadian subarctic First Nations in the Dehcho and Sahtù regions. Results will support environmental health policies in the future for these communities. The project was designed to explore the risks and benefits of country foods and to inform the development of public health strategies.

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Mercury and omega-3 fatty acid profiles in freshwater fish of the Dehcho Region, Northwest Territories: Informing risk benefit assessments
Matthew Laird, Juan J. Aristizabal Henao, Ellen S. Reyes, Ken D. Stark, George C. Low, Heidi K. Swanson, Brian Laird
Science of The Total Environment, Volume 637-638

Traditional foods have significant nutritional, sociocultural and economic value in subarctic First Nations communities of the Northwest Territories, and play a crucial role in promoting cultural continuity and sovereignty. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (N-3 PUFAs), including eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), carry significant benefits for neurocognitive development and cardiovascular health. However, the health risks posed by methylmercury may serve to undermine the benefits of fish consumption in Northern Indigenous communities. The objective of this study was to characterize profiles for mercury (Hg) and fatty acids in fish species harvested across lakes of the Dehcho Region, in the Mackenzie Valley of the Northwest Territories, to better understand the risks and benefits associated with traditional foods. Hg levels increased with trophic position, with the highest levels found in Burbot, Lake Trout, Walleye, and Northern Pike. Lake Trout, along with planktivorous species including Lake Whitefish, Cisco, and Sucker, demonstrated higher N-3 PUFAs than other species. Negative associations were observed between Hg and N-3 PUFAs in Lake Trout, Northern Pike, Walleye and Burbot. Further stratifying these relationships revealed significant interactions by lake. Significant differences observed in fatty acid and Hg profiles across lakes underscore the importance of considering both species- and lake-specific findings. This growing dataset of freshwater fish of the Dehcho will inform future efforts to characterize human Hg exposure profiles using probabilistic dose reconstruction models.