The Influence of the Degree of Forest Management on Methylmercury and the Composition of Microbial Communities in the Sediments of Boreal Drainage Ditches

Krišs Bitenieks* (Corresponding Author), Arta Bārdule, Karin Eklöf, Mikk Espenberg, Dainis Edgars Ruņģis, Zane Kļaviņa, Ivars Kļaviņš, Haiyan Hu, Zane Lībiete

*Corresponding author for this work

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Inorganic mercury (Hg) can be methylated to the highly toxic and bioavailable methylmercury (MeHg) by microorganisms in anaerobic environments. The Hg methylation rate may be affected by forest management activities, which can influence the catchment soils, water, and sediments. Here, we investigate the influence of forest management in the form of ditch cleaning and beaver dam removal, as well as the seasonal variations, on sediment chemistry and microbiota. The relationships between MeHg concentrations in sediment samples and archaeal and bacterial communities assessed by 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing were investigated to determine the microbial conditions that facilitated the formation of MeHg. Concentrations of MeHg were highest in undisturbed catchments compared to disturbed or slightly disturbed sites. The undisturbed sites also had the highest microbial diversity, which may have facilitated the formation of MeHg. Low MeHg concentrations and microbial diversity were observed in disturbed sites, which may be due to the removal of organic sediment layers during ditch cleaning and beaver dam removal, resulting in more homogenous, mineral-rich environments with less microbial activity. MeHg concentrations were higher in summer and autumn compared to winter and spring, but the temporal variation in the composition and diversity of the microbial community was less than the spatial variation between sites. Beta diversity was more affected by the environment than alpha diversity. The MeHg concentrations in the sediment were positively correlated to several taxa, including Cyanobacteria, Proteobacteria, Desulfobacterota, Chloroflexi, and Bacteroidota, which could represent either Hg-methylating microbes or the growth substrates of Hg-methylating microbes.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1981
Number of pages20
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 6 Oct 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding: This work was supported by the Latvian Council of Science project no. lzp-2018/1-0434 “Interaction of microbial diversity with methane turnover and mercury methylation in organic soils”.

Data Availability Statement

Not applicable. 16S rDNA nucleotide sequences are openly available in the Sequence Read Archive (SRA) with accession numbers SAMN18879572–SAMN18879603 under BioProject ID PRJNA725443.


  • Hg
  • freshwater sediment
  • water catchment area
  • sediment microbiome
  • bacterial community
  • archaeal community
  • amplicon-based next-generation sequencing


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