Mobility and transport of mercury and methylmercury in peat as a function of changes in water table regime and plant functional groups

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©2017. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved. Climate change is likely to significantly affect the hydrology, ecology, and ecosystem function of peatlands, with potentially important but unclear impacts on mercury mobility within and transport from peatlands. Using a full-factorial mesocosm approach, we investigated the potential impacts on mercury mobility of water table regime changes (high and low) and vegetation community shifts (sedge-dominated, Ericaceae-dominated, or unmanipulated control) in peat monoliths at the PEATcosm mesocosm facility in Houghton, Michigan. Lower and more variable water table regimes and the loss of Ericaceae shrubs act significantly and independently to increase both total Hg and methylmercury concentrations in peat pore water and in spring snowmelt runoff. These differences are related to enhanced peat decomposition and internal regeneration of electron acceptors which are more strongly related to water table regime than to plant community changes. Loss of Ericaceae shrubs and an increase in sedge cover may also affect Hg concentrations and mobility via oxygen shuttling and/or the provision of labile root exudates. Altered hydrological regimes and shifting vegetation communities, as a result of global climate change, are likely to enhance Hg transport from peatlands to downstream aquatic ecosystems.

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Global Biogeochemical Cycles