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Little is known about the history of heavy metal pollution of Russia’s Lake Baikal, one of the world’s largest lakes and a home to numerous endemic species, including the Baikal Seal, Pusa sibirica. We investigated the history of heavy metal (V, Cu, Zn, Cd, Hg, Tl, Pb, U) pollution in Lake Baikal seals over the past 8 decades. C and N stable isotope analysis (SIA) and laser-ablation ICP-MS of seal teeth were used to examine changes in feeding ecology, heavy metal levels associated with life history events and long-term variation in metal exposure. SIA did not suggest large changes in the feeding ecology of Baikal seals over the past 80 years. LA-ICP-MS analyses revealed element-specific ontogenetic variability in metal concentrations, likely related to maternal transfer, changes in food sources and starvation. Hg and Cd levels in seals varied significantly across the time series, with concentrations peaking in the 1960s - 1970s but then declining to contemporary levels similar to those observed in the 1930s and 1940s. Trends in atmospheric emissions of Hg suggest that local sources as well as emissions from eastern Russia and Europe may be important contributors of Hg to Lake Baikal and that, despite the size of Lake Baikal, its food web appears to respond rapidly to changing inputs of contaminants.


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