About This Project
Methylmercury is the organic highly toxic form of the element mercury that accumulates naturally in aquatic organisms. High trophic level organisms have been well documented having high concentrations of the heavy metal, in comparison much less is known about accumulation patterns in those residing at the bottom of the food chain. This study looks to investigate these patterns using dietary mercury exposure in green crabs, a low trophic level and invasive organism in Maine.
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What is the context of this research?
Methylmercury is an organic form of the element mercury that accumulates naturally in aquatic environments. While many large apex predators such as sharks have demonstrated the ability to handle heavy concentrations of the toxin, the effects of heavy methylmercury exposure on lower trophic level organisms is less well understood.
European green crabs are a notoriously invasive species found along the US Northeast coastline. Due to their unique behavior, abundance, and low trophic level these crabs make for interesting test subjects for controlled methylmercury exposure. By exposing these crabs to a diet with a high mercury content in a controlled setting we can hope to examine the uptake and retention of methylmercury by these organisms.
What is the significance of this project?
If the green crabs in this study are able to retain heavy concentrations of methylmercury without adverse effects, it could mean in a real world setting that the subsequent organisms feedings on the crabs would be accumulating substantially greater concentrations of methylmercury. On the other hand, if the health and behavior of these crabs can be impacted by methylmercury accumulation it could change ecosystem dynamics by removing a large population of low trophic level organisms.
This study is a critical step in generating a greater understanding of the effects this dangerous heavy metal can have on aquatic organisms and potential ecosystems.
What are the goals of the project?
The funding generated for this project will go towards the analysis of all biological tissue samples in the study, including the individual crabs and the proportionally high in methylmercury content tuna they are being fed. Each tissue sample collected will be weighed, freeze-dried and then delivered to the Biological Research Institute in Portland Maine for methylmercury analysis.
Funding will also provide me the means of being able to remain at the University of New England for the duration of the summer and complete these trials. The objective is to have collected results from 40 exposure trials by September 2021. Other students here at school will then have the opportunity to use these results to generate their own experiments with methylmercury exposure in green crabs.
Samples will need to be analyzed for mercury concentration at the Biodiversity Research Institute in Portland Maine. At 45$ a sample the budget of 2,475$ will allow for the analysis of 55 samples. Supplemental funds if generated will be used to analyze further samples and provide additional supplies and equipment for students looking to investigate other variables in this experiment in the future.
The student support budget item would support myself and another students ability to live in Maine and continue work on this project at the University of New England.
The experimental setup was completed during the spring 2021 semester with exposure trials starting in early May. This will allow exposure trials to continue through the remainder of the spring and summer. With this goal in mind a substantial number of results is expected to be generated by mid August with results being analyzed and presented at the University of New England Research Symposium by September 2021.
Apr 29, 2021
May 01, 2021
Exposure Trials Begin
Aug 20, 2021
50 Samples from Exposure Trials Analyzed for Methylmercury Concentrations
Meet the Team
I'm currently an undergraduate student at the University of New England pursuing a major in marine biology with a minor in chemistry. I began investigating methylmercury concentrations in sharks when I was 15 in my hometown of Ridgefield, Connecticut. The complex movements of the heavy metal and the incredible resilience many organisms have towards the toxin has always fascinated me. My work has helped bring me to assist on a number of incredible research projects in The Bahamas, and I'm currently working in Maine to develop a number of studies investigating the movements of methylmercury within marine organisms.
While completing the study on methylmercury exposure in green crabs I am simultaneously working on a project examining methylmercury concentrations in the muscle tissue of silky sharks. I am also President of the University of New England's scuba and drone clubs.
The experiences I have had working in the marine science field have been nothing short of life changing. I am incredibly passionate about my work with methylmercury in marine organisms, and plan on continuing work in this field for as long as there are still questions to be answered. I also hope to help other students become involved with research, and find the same passion for marine science that I have been so fortunate to have.
If you'd like to read more about my work please visit
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