Lake Erie's food web has been dramatically modified by exotic species. Both exotic dreissenid mussels and the round goby Neogobius melanastomus have shifted the food web from a pelagic-based to a benthic-based one, potentially creating a new pathway for contaminant transfer to top predators. Before the invasion of round gobies, few predators of dreissenids occurred in Lake Erie, allowing contaminants to be confined to these benthic organisms. The invasion of the round goby has produced a new pathway through which these contaminants can enter the food web. To characterize heavy-metal transfer through this new food web and to assess risk to humans, water, surficial sediment, dreissenid, round goby, and smallmouth bass Micropterus dolomieui samples were collected at three sites during summers, 2002 and 2003, and analyzed for total lead (Pb), total mercury (Hg), and methyl mercury (MeHg). In addition, we compared smallmouth bass Pb and Hg concentrations to those measured in 1993/1994, before round gobies were prevalent. Pb biodiminished and MeHg biomagnified through the food web to smallmouth bass; patterns were similar among our three sites. Total Pb concentrations in smallmouth bass were higher before the incorporation of round gobies into their diet. We attributed this decline to changes in food web structure, changes in contaminant burdens in prey, or declines in sediment Pb concentrations in Lake Erie. By comparison, Hg concentrations in smallmouth bass changed little, before and after the round goby invasion, possibly due to a shift in diet that increased growth. Despite a decline in sediment Hg concentrations in Lake Erie, smallmouth bass continued to accumulate Hg at historical rates possibly because of their high consumption rates of benthivorous round gobies. As smallmouth bass continue to consume round gobies during their lives, their Hg concentrations may well continue to increase, potentially increasing the risk of Hg contamination to humans.
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