A stable isotope approach to trophic ecology : resolving food webs in intertidal ecosystems
Abstract (Summary)There are broad differences in regional oceanography and primary production around the South African coast, which we might expect to give rise to major differences in trophic pathways. ?[superscript 13]C and ?[superscript 15]N isotopic ratios of suspended particulate matter (SPM), mussels, various intertidal consumers and common macroalgae along the South African coastline were explored using stable isotope analysis to investigate biogeographic and temporal variability of isotopic signatures of marine intertidal consumers and their food sources around the coast of South Africa, with a focus on evaluating the dependence of intertidal mussels on phytoplankton and macroalgal-derived organic carbon. Isotopic equilibration rates of four mussel tissues were determined through laboratory feeding experiments, which established that adductor tissue had the slowest isotopic turnover rate, and was subsequently used as an indication of overall mussel diet. Biogeographic, temporal and nearshore/offshore trends of isotopic ratios of SPM were investigated along 10km transects perpendicular to the coast and SPM exhibited overall trends of carbon depletion when moving from west to east along the coastline and from nearshore to offshore water, in both cases suggesting a shift from macrophyte detritus to a phytoplankton signature. ?[superscript 13]C signatures of SPM also revealed temporal and biogeographic variation that had strong ties to local oceanography, being closely correlated to regional hydrographic features and tidal influences. Mixing models indicated filter feeders demonstrated over 50% dependence on nearshore SPM for organic carbon and it was possible to categorize them into geographic groups based on their carbon and nitrogen signatures, suggesting biogeographic shifts in resources. Biogeographic shifts in diet were also seen in some grazers. Difficulties in relating macroalgae to mussel diet led to investigations into the isotopic changes associated with macroalgal decomposition. Variation in photosynthetic fractionation, leaching and microbial mineralization are believed to have resulted from species-specific patterns of degradation. Although the strong links between carbon signatures and local oceanography indicate that stable isotope analysis is a powerful tool for the study of water mixing and coastal hydrography in relation to food-web analyses, substantial variation in fractionation of primary consumers, along with different periods of time integration between consumers and their food sources must be considered in future studies, to resolve trophic links in marine food webs successfully.
School Location:South Africa
Source Type:Master's Thesis
Date of Publication:01/01/2008