Relations Between Mercury Fractions and Microbial Community Components in Seawater Under the Presence and Absence of Probable Phosphorus Limitation Conditions

J Environ Sci (China). 2019 Jan;75:145-162. doi: 10.1016/j.jes.2018.03.012. Epub 2018 Mar 23.


Microbial transformations of toxic monomethylmercury (MMHg) and dissolved gaseous mercury (DGM) at the lower levels of the marine food web are not well understood, especially in oligotrophic and phosphorus-limited seas. To examine the effects of probable phosphorus limitation (PP-limitation) on relations between mercury (Hg) fractions and microorganisms, we determined the total mercury (THg), total methylated mercury (MeHg), DGM, and microbiological and chemical parameters in the Central Adriatic Sea. Using statistical analysis, we assessed the potential microbial effects on Hg transformations and bioaccumulation. Only in the absence of PP-limitation conditions (NO-PP-limitation) is MeHg significantly related to most chemical and microbial parameters, indicating metabolism-dependent Hg transformations. The heterotrophic activity of low nucleic acid bacteria (abundant in oligotrophic regions) seems responsible for most of Hg methylation under NO-PP-limitation. Under these conditions, DGM is strongly related to microbial fractions and chlorophyll a, indicating biological DGM production, which is probably not metabolically induced, as most of these relations are also observed under PP-limitation. MMHg biomagnification was observed through an increased bioaccumulation factor from microseston to mesozooplankton. Our results indicate that Hg transformations and uptake might be enhanced under NO-PP-limitation conditions, emphasizing their impact on the transfer of Hg to higher trophic levels.

Keywords: Mercury speciation; Methylmercury; Microbial community; Probable phosphorus limitation.

MeSH terms

  • Environmental Monitoring*
  • Mercury / chemistry*
  • Phosphorus / chemistry
  • Phosphorus / metabolism*
  • Seawater / chemistry*
  • Seawater / microbiology
  • Water Microbiology*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / chemistry*


  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Phosphorus
  • Mercury