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

Stable isotope and fatty acid biomarkers of seagrass, epiphytic, and algal organic matter to consumers in a pristine seagrass ecosystem

Laura L. Belicka A B E F , Derek Burkholder C , James W. Fourqurean B C , Michael R. Heithaus C , Stephen A. Macko D and Rudolf Jaffé A B

A Southeast Environmental Research Center, Florida International University, Miami, FL 33199, USA.

B Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Florida International University, Miami, FL 33199, USA.

C Department of Biological Sciences and Marine Sciences Program, Florida International University, Miami, FL 33199, USA.

D Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22903, USA.

E Present address: Algenol Biofuels, Inc., 16121 Lee Rd, Fort Myers, FL 33912, USA.

F Corresponding author. Email: laura.belicka@algenol.com

Marine and Freshwater Research 63(11) 1085-1097 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/MF12027
Submitted: 31 January 2012  Accepted: 15 June 2012   Published: 26 November 2012

Abstract

The relative importance of the identity and abundance of primary producers in structuring trophic ecology, particularly in seagrass-dominated ecosystems, remains unclear. We assessed the contributions of seagrass, epiphytes, macroalgae, and other primary producers to the diets of resident animals in the nearly pristine seagrass-dominated environment of Shark Bay, Australia, by combining fatty acid composition with carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur stable isotopes of primary producers and consumers. Overall, mixed inputs of these primary producers fuel secondary production, with tropical detrital seagrass inputs supporting most fish species, likely through benthic intermediates. Epiphytic organic matter inputs were most closely associated with snails, whereas seagrass detritus, macroalgae, gelatinous zooplankton, and/or phytoplankton may all contribute to higher trophic levels including sea turtles and sharks. The fatty acid and isotope data suggest that diets of large-bodied consumers were highly variable – future food web studies need to incorporate large sample sizes to account for this variability.

Additional keywords: epiphytes, fatty acids, food webs, seagrass, Shark Bay, δ13C, δ15N, δ34S.


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