In this paper, we synthesize available information on the links between changes in ecosystem loading of inorganic mercury (Hg) and levels of methylmercury (MeHg) in fish. Although it is widely hypothesized that increased Hg load to aquatic ecosystems leads to increases in MeHg in fish, there is limited quantitative data to test this hypothesis. Here we examine the available evidence from a range of sources: studies of ecosystems contaminated by industrial discharges, observations of fish MeHg responses to changes in atmospheric load, studies over space and environmental gradients, and experimental manipulations. A summary of the current understanding of the main processes involved in the transport and transformation from Hg load to MeHg in fish is provided. The role of Hg loading is discussed in context with other factors affecting Hg cycling and bioaccumulation in relation to timing and magnitude of response in fish MeHg. The main conclusion drawn is that changes in Hg loading (increase or decrease) will yield a response in fish MeHg but that the timing and magnitude of the response will vary depending of ecosystem-specific variables and the form of the Hg loaded.
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Vol. 36 • No. 1