Mercury and selenium in fish from the Savannah River: Species, trophic level, and locational differences

Joanna Burger, Karen F. Gaines, C. Shane Boring, Warren L. Stephens, Joel Snodgrass, Michael Gochfeld

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

132 Scopus citations


Levels of contaminants in fish are of considerable interest because of potential effects on the fish themselves, as well as on other organisms that consume them. In this article we compare the mercury levels in muscle tissue of 11 fish species from the Savannah River, as well as selenium levels because of its known protective effect against mercury toxicity. We sampled fish from three stretches of the river: upstream, along, and downstream the Department of Energy's Savannah River Site, a former nuclear material production facility. We test the null hypothesis that there were no differences in mercury and selenium levels in fish tissue as a function of species, trophic level, and location along the river. There were significant interspecific differences in mercury levels, with bowfin (Amia calva) having the highest levels, followed by largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) and pickerel (Esox niger). Sunfish (Lepomis spp.) had the lowest levels of mercury. As expected, these differences generally reflected trophic levels. There were few significant locational differences in mercury levels, and existing differences were not great, presumably reflecting local movements of fish between the sites examined. Selenium and mercury concentrations were positively correlated only for bass, perch (Perca flavescens), and red-breasted sunfish (Lepomis auritus). Mercury levels were positively correlated with body mass of the fish for all species except American eel (Anguilla rostrata) and bluegill sunfish (L. macrochirus). The mercury and selenium levels in fish tissue from the Savannah River are similar to or lower than those reported in many other studies, and in most cases pose little risk to the fish themselves or to other aquatic consumers, although levels in bowfin and bass are sufficiently high to pose a potential threat to high-level consumers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)108-118
Number of pages11
JournalEnvironmental research
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2001

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry
  • Environmental Science(all)


  • Biological amplification
  • Ecological risk
  • Fish
  • Mercury
  • Savannah River
  • Selenium
  • Trophic level


Dive into the research topics of 'Mercury and selenium in fish from the Savannah River: Species, trophic level, and locational differences'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this