SANTA CRUZ — Fog is the likely culprit behind high levels of mercury found in mountain lions living near the coast, according to a new study led by UC Santa Cruz researchers.

Published in Nature, the study found mercury levels roughly three times higher in mountain lions roaming the Santa Cruz Mountains, and other coastal areas, when compared to pumas further inland.

The research is the first to present a clear picture of how the atmosphere plays a role in carrying mercury from the ocean to the top of the near-coastal food chain.

“The atmosphere, and probably fog, is a major contributor to these elevated levels of mercury we’re seeing in the coastal puma,” said Peter Weiss-Penzias, an associate researcher in UCSC’s Department of Microbiology and Toxicology, and the study’s lead author.

Mercury-laced fog presents no direct threat to human health because of the relatively low levels of the contaminant, according to Weiss-Penzias.

But he said it is a particular concern for predators such as mountain lions that are perched atop the near-coastal food chain. Toxic metals such as mercury can drastically build up through the food chain via a well-known process called bioaccumulation.

Out of 94 coastal mountain lions tested in the study, one …read more

Source:: East Bay – Science


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