Speciation leads to divergent methylmercury accumulation in sympatric whitefish

Blank, Nanina; Hudson, Alan G.; Vonlanthen, Pascal; Seehausen, Ole; Hammerschmidt, Chad R.; Senn, David B. (2013). Speciation leads to divergent methylmercury accumulation in sympatric whitefish. Aquatic Sciences, 75(2), pp. 261-273. Basel: Springer 10.1007/s00027-012-0271-6

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Central European lake whitefish (Coregonus spp.) colonized Swiss lakes following the last glacial retreat and have undergone rapid speciation and adaptive radiation. Up to six species have been shown to coexist in some lakes, and individual species occupy specific ecological niches and have distinct feeding and reproductive ecologies. We studied methylmercury (MeHg) accumulation in sympatric whitefish species from seven Swiss lakes to determine if ecological divergence has led to different rates of MeHg bioaccumulation. In four of seven lakes, sympatric species had distinctly different MeHg levels, which varied by up to a factor of two between species. Generally, species with greater MeHg levels were smaller in body size and planktivorous, and species with lower MeHg were larger and benthivorous. While modest disparities in trophic position between species might be expected a priori to explain the divergence in MeHg, δ15N of bulk tissue did not correlate with fish MeHg in five of seven lakes. Results of a nested ANCOVA analysis across all lakes indicated that only two factors (species, lake) explained substantial portions of the variance, with species accounting for more variance (52 %) than inter-lake differences (32 %). We suggest that differences in MeHg accumulation were likely caused by diverging metabolic traits between species, such as differences in energy partitioning between anabolism and catabolism, potentially interacting with species-specific prey resource utilization. These results indicate substantial variability in MeHg accumulation between closely related fish species, illustrating that ecological speciation in fish can lead to divergent MeHg accumulation patterns.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Ecology and Evolution (IEE) > Aquatic Ecology

UniBE Contributor:

Seehausen, Ole


500 Science > 570 Life sciences; biology








Factscience Import

Date Deposited:

04 Oct 2013 14:40

Last Modified:

28 Oct 2015 14:16

Publisher DOI:


Web of Science ID:





https://boris.unibe.ch/id/eprint/16332 (FactScience: 223947)

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