Presence of artisanal gold mining predicts mercury bioaccumulation in five genera of bats (Chiroptera)

Environ Pollut. 2018 May;236:862-870. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2018.01.109.


Mercury, a toxic trace metal, has been used extensively as an inexpensive and readily available method of extracting gold from fine-grained sediment. Worldwide, artisanal mining is responsible for one third of all mercury released into the environment. By testing bat hair from museum specimens and field collected samples from areas both impacted and unimpacted by artisanal gold mining in Perú, we show monomethylmercury (MMHg) has increased in the last 100 years. MMHg concentrations were also greatest in the highest bat trophic level (insectivores), and in areas experiencing extractive artisanal mining. Reproductive female bats had higher MMHg concentrations, and both juvenile and adult bats from mercury contaminated sites had more MMHg than those from uncontaminated sites. Bats have important ecological functions, providing vital ecosystem services such as pollination, seed dispersal, and insect control. Natural populations can act as environmental sentinels and offer the chance to expand our understanding of, and responses to, environmental and human health concerns.

Keywords: Forest disturbance; Madre de Dios River; Mammals; Mercury; Perúvian Amazon.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chiroptera / metabolism*
  • Ecology
  • Ecosystem
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Environmental Pollutants / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Gold
  • Hair / chemistry
  • Heavy Metal Poisoning / veterinary*
  • Male
  • Mercury / analysis
  • Mercury / metabolism*
  • Mining*
  • Peru


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Gold
  • Mercury