Elevated Toxic Mercury in Mountain Lions Linked to Coastal Fog

Marine fog brings more than cooler temperatures to coastal areas. Researchers at UC Santa Cruz have discovered elevated levels of mercury in mountain lions, the latest indication that the neurotoxin is being carried in fog, deposited on the land, and making its way up the food chain.

Concentrations of mercury in pumas in the Santa Cruz Mountains were three times higher than lions who live outside the fog zone. Similarly, mercury levels in lichen and deer were significantly higher inside the fog belt than beyond it.

Mercury levels found in pumas are approaching toxic thresholds that could jeopardize reproduction and even survival, according to the researchers, whose findings appear in an article that is available free online.

Led by Peter Weiss-Penzias, an environmental toxicologist who has pioneered the study of pollutants in coastal fog, the study is the first to trace the atmospheric source of super-toxic methylmercury in the terrestrial food web up to a top predator.

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