Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Applied Ecology (MS)

Administrative Home Department

College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science

Advisor 1

Evan Kane

Advisor 2

Erik Lilleskov

Committee Member 1

Stephen Techtmann


Methyl-mercury (MeHg) is a potent neurotoxin that threatens the health of humans and wildlife alike. Climate warming threatens to shift regional precipitation and climate regimes in peatland environments, which could destabilize northern peatlands and accelerate both Hg release from soil and MeHg production. Peatlands are among the leading hotspots for MeHg, yet little is known about the community composition or functional relationship of mercury-methylating microbes in response to varying environmental conditions. The recognized mercury-methylating genes responsible for this activity are the obligatory gene pair hgcA and hgcB. Metagenomic data from the full-factorial peatland mesocosm experiment PEATcosm was obtained to examine the effects of treatment variables on the abundance and functional composition of hgcA-containing organisms. We found significant effects of water table, plant functional group, and depth on hgcA gene abundance. Methanogens dominated as the most abundant functional assignment for gene hits that were recognized, suggesting that methanogens have potential to be leading mercury methylators in some systems.