, Volume 137, Issue 1–2, pp 181–195 | Cite as

Methylmercury and methane production potentials in North Carolina Piedmont stream sediments

  • P. W. BlumEmail author
  • A. E. Hershey
  • M. T.-K. Tsui
  • C. R. Hammerschmidt
  • A. M. Agather


Methylated mercury (MeHg) can be produced by all microbes possessing the genes hgcA and hgcB, which can include sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB), iron-reducing bacteria (FeRB), methane-producing archaea (MPA), and other anaerobic microbes. These microbial groups compete for substrates, including hydrogen and acetate. When sulfate is in excess, SRB can outcompete other anaerobic microbes. However, low concentrations of sulfate, which often occur in stream sediments, are thought to reduce the relative importance of SRB. Although SRB are regarded as the primary contributors of MeHg in many aquatic environments, their significance may not be universal, and stream sediments are poorly studied with respect to microbial Hg methylation. We evaluated suppression of methanogenesis by SRB and the potential contributions from SRB, MPA and other MeHg producing microbes (including FeRB) to the production of MeHg in stream sediments from the North Carolina Piedmont region. Lower methanogenesis rates were observed when SRB were not inhibited, however, application of a sulfate-reduction inhibitor stimulated methanogenesis. Greater MeHg production occurred when SRB were active. Other MeHg producing microbes (i.e., FeRB) contributed significantly less MeHg production than SRB. MPA produced MeHg in negligible amounts. Our results suggest that SRB are responsible for the majority of MeHg production and suppress methanogenesis in mid-order stream sediments, similar to other freshwater sediments. Further investigation is needed to evaluate the generality of these findings to streams in other regions, and to determine the mechanisms regulating sulfate and electron acceptor availability and other potential factors governing Hg methylation and methane production in stream sediments.


Methanogenesis Methanogens Methylmercury Microbial ecology Streams Sulfate-reducing bacteria 



Ash free dry mass


Analysis of variance


2-Bromoethanesulfonic acid


Iron-reducing bacteria


Gas chromatography flame ionization detection


Gas chromatography inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry


Inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectrometry


Inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry




Methane-producing archaea


Sulfate-reducing bacteria



Funding was provided by the UNCG Biology department, the Water Resources Research Institute of the UNC System, the Julia Morton Taylor Endowment, the Southeastern Council of the Federation of Fly Fishers, the John O’Brien memorial award, and the North Carolina Wildlife Federation. Thanks to Stephen Whalen and Katy Broadwater at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, for the expertise and guidance with methane analysis. Also, special thanks to Angela Larsen at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro for statistical advice.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflicts of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Supplementary material

10533_2017_408_MOESM1_ESM.docx (13 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 13 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of North Carolina at GreensboroGreensboroUSA
  2. 2.Earth & Environmental SciencesWright State UniversityDaytonUSA

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