Impacts of Artisanal Gold Mining in the Peruvian Amazon on Aquatic Ecosystem Biodiversity (2019-2020)

This Bass Connections project sought to understand the impacts of artisanal, or small-scale, gold mining (ASGM) on aquatic ecology (beyond the singular issue of mercury contamination) and to communicate these impacts with policymakers and local communities.

Team members engaged in training sessions on the biogeochemical cycling of nutrients, forest ecology and tropical hydrology. They then designed a research strategy for environmental data collection and travel to the Madre de Dios region of the Peruvian Amazon to collect environmental samples.

eDNA is a new tool that allows for the assessment of all organisms present in a water sample based on their DNA. This team expanded on the eDNA sample collection piloted by the 2018-2019 project team. The analysis of these samples was be paired with remote sensing tools that allow for an assessment of changes in river productivity over time. Team members found that high contamination of mercury from ASGM in Peruvian water and soil can persist for centuries.


Spring 2019 – Spring 2020

Team Outputs

Jacqueline R. Gerson, Natalie Szponar, Angelica Almeyda Zambrano, Bridget Bergquist, Eben Broadbent, Charles T. Driscoll, Gideon Erkenswick, David C. Evers, Luis E. Fernandez, Heileen Hsu-Kim, Giancarlo Inga, Kelsey N. Lansdale, Melissa J. Marchese, Ari Martinez, Caroline Moore, William K. Pan, Raúl Pérez Purizaca, Victor Sánchez, Miles Silman, Emily A. Ury, Claudia Vega, Mrinalini Watsa, Emily S. Bernhardt. 2022. Amazon forests capture high levels of atmospheric mercury pollution from artisanal gold mining. Nature Communications 13(559).

Axel J. Berky, Emily Robie, Susy Navio Chipa, Ernesto J. Ortiz, Emma J. Palmer, Nelson A. Rivera, Ana Maria Morales Avalos, Joel N. Meyer, Heileen Hsu-Kim, William K. Pan. 2022. Risk of lead exposure from wild game consumption from cross-sectional studies in Madre de Dios, Peru. The Lancet.

Jacqueline R. Gerson, Simon N. Topp. Claudia M. Vega, John R. Gardner, Xiao Yang, Luis E. Fernandez, Emily S. Bernhardt, Tamlin M. Pavelsky. 2020. "Artificial Lake Expansion Amplifies Mercury Pollution from Gold Mining." Science Advances 6(48).

Mercury Pollution in the Amazon (Fortin Foundation Bass Connections Virtual Showcase 2020)

History Repeats Itself: Mercury Pollution from Historic and Modern Gold Rushes (poster by Arianna Agostini, Rand Alotaibi, Arabella Chen, Annie Lee, Fernanda Machicao, Melissa Marchese, Jacqueline Gerson, Jasmine Parham, Austin Wadle, Emily Bernhardt)


The Things We Do for Cochas: Camping 101

First Impressions of the Peruvian Amazon

This Team in the News

In a Biodiversity Haven, Mining Drives Highest Ever Recorded Levels of Mercury

Alarming Levels of Mercury Are Found in Old Growth Amazon Forest

Modern Day Gold Rush Turns Pristine Rainforests into Heavily Polluted Mercury Sinks

Duke Researchers Make an Impact in the Jungles of Peru

These Ph.D. Graduates Leveraged Bass Connections and Other Interdisciplinary Opportunities

Gold Rush, Mercury Legacy: Small-scale Mining for Gold Has Produced Long-lasting Toxic Pollution, from 1860s California to Modern Peru

See related team, Environmental Epidemiology in Latin America: Impacts of Artisanal Gold Mining in the Peruvian Amazon (2018-2019).


Image: Gold mining in the Peruvian Amazon, courtesy of Jacqueline Gerson, Kelsey Lansdale and Melissa Marchese

Gold mining in the Peruvian Amazon.

Team Leaders

  • Emily Bernhardt, Arts & Sciences-Biology

/graduate Team Members

  • Jacqueline Gerson, Ecology-PHD
  • Austin Wadle, Civil & Environmental Engg-PHD, Civil & Environmental Engg-MS
  • Jasmine Parham, Biology - PHD

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Anne Lee, Environmental Sciences (BS)
  • Rand Alotaibi, Earth & Ocean Sciences (BS)
  • Melissa Marchese, Environmental Sci/Policy (AB)
  • Fernanda Machicao, Environmental Sciences (BS)
  • Arabella Chen, Biology (BS)
  • Arianna Agostini, Environmental Sciences (BS)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Ernesto Ortiz, Duke Global Health Institute
  • William Pan, Nicholas School of the Environment-Environmental Sciences and Policy

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Luis Fernandez, Wake Forest University, Center for Amazonian Scientific Innovation (CINCIA)
  • Noah Fierer, Wake Forest University
  • Joseph Craine, Jonah Ventures
  • Instituto de Investigaciones de la Amazonia Peruana (IIAP)
  • Center for Amazonian Science and Innovation (CINCIA)
  • Centro de Estudios, Investigaciones, y Servicios en Salud Publica (CENSAP)
  • Elizabeth Anderson, Florida International University
  • Tamlin Pavelsku, UNC-Chapel Hill
  • Miles Silman, Wake Forest University
  • Claudia Vega, Wake Forest University, Center for Amazonian Scientific Innovation (CINCIA)
  • Asociacion para la Conservacion de la Cuenca Amazonica