Marine and Freshwater Research Marine and Freshwater Research Society
Advances in the aquatic sciences
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Tracing sewage-derived organic matter into a shallow groundwater food web using stable isotope and fluorescence signatures

Adam Hartland A D , Graham D. Fenwick B and Sarah J. Bury C
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK.

B National Institute of Water and Atmosphere (NIWA), PO Box 8602, Christchurch, New Zealand.

C National Institute of Water and Atmosphere (NIWA), 301 Evans Bay Road, Greta Point, Wellington, New Zealand.

D Corresponding author. Email: axh397@bham.ac.uk

Marine and Freshwater Research 62(2) 119-129 https://doi.org/10.1071/MF10110
Submitted: 13 May 2010  Accepted: 13 November 2010   Published: 24 February 2011

Abstract

Little is known about the feeding modes of groundwater invertebrates (stygofauna). Incorporation of sewage-derived organic matter (OM) into a shallow groundwater food web was studied using fluorescence and stable isotope signatures (δ13C and δ15N). Organic pollution was hypothesised to limit sensitive species’ abundances along the contamination gradient and isotope signatures of stygofauna consuming sewage-derived OM were expected to be enriched in δ15N. Stygofauna communities near a sewage treatment plant in New Zealand were sampled over 4 months and microbial biofilms were incubated in situ on native gravel for 1 month. As anticipated, OM stress-subsidy gradients altered stygofauna composition: the biomass of oligochaetes and Paraleptamphopus amphipods increased in OM-enriched groundwater (higher dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and tryptophan-like fluorescence), whereas other, probably less-tolerant taxa (e.g. ostracods, Dytiscidae) were absent. Isotopic signatures for stygofauna from polluted groundwater were consistent with assimilation of isotopically enriched sewage-N (δ15N values of 7–16‰), but highly depleted in δ13C relative to sewage. Negative 13C discriminations probably occur in Paraleptamphopus amphipods, and may also occur in oligochaetes and Dytiscidae, a finding with implications for the application of δ13C for determining food sources in groundwaters. Organic pollution of groundwaters may have serious repercussions for stygofauna community structure with potentially irreversible consequences.

Additional keywords: pollution, stygofauna.


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