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Tracking seasonal changes in North Sea zooplankton trophic dynamics using stable isotopes

Lookup NU author(s): Benjamin Kurten, Professor Nick Polunin


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Trophodynamics of meso-zooplankton in the North Sea (NS) were assessed at a site in the southern NS, and at a shallow and a deep site in the central NS. Offshore and neritic species from different ecological niches, including Calanus spp., Temora spp. and Sagitta spp., were collected during seven cruises over 14 months from 2007 to 2008. Bulk stable isotope (SI) analysis, phospholipid-derived fatty acid (PLFA) compositions, and delta C-13(PLFA) data of meso-zooplankton and particulate organic matter (POM) were used to describe changes in zooplankton relative trophic positions (RTPs) and trophodynamics. The aim of the study was to test the hypothesis that the RTPs of zooplankton in the North Sea vary spatially and seasonally, in response to hydrographic variability, with the microbial food web playing an important role at times. Zooplankton RTPs tended to be higher during winter and lower during the phytoplankton bloom in spring. RTPs were highest for predators such as Sagitta sp. and Calanus helgolandicus and lowest for small copepods such as Pseudocalanus elongatus and zoea larvae (Brachyura). delta N-15(POM)-based RTPs were only moderate surrogates for animals' ecological niches, because of the plasticity in source materials from the herbivorous and the microbial loop food web. Common (16:0) and essential (eicosapentaenoic acid, EPA and docosahexaenoic acid, DHA) structural lipids showed relatively constant abundances. This could be explained by incorporation of PLFAs with delta C-13 signatures which followed seasonal changes in bulk delta C-13(POM) and PLFA delta C-13(POM) signatures. This study highlighted the complementarity of three biogeochemical approaches for trophodynamic studies and substantiated conceptual views of size-based food web analysis, in which small individuals of large species may be functionally equivalent to large individuals of small species. Seasonal and spatial variability was also important in altering the relative importance of the herbivorous and microbial food webs.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Kurten B, Painting SJ, Struck U, Polunin NVC, Middelburg JJ

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Biogeochemistry

Year: 2013

Volume: 113

Issue: 1-3

Pages: 167-187

Print publication date: 01/05/2013

Online publication date: 09/08/2011

Acceptance date: 24/07/2011

ISSN (print): 0168-2563

ISSN (electronic): 1573-515X

Publisher: Springer


DOI: 10.1007/s10533-011-9630-y


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Funder referenceFunder name
Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS)
Centre for Estuarine and Marine Ecology, Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW)
EURopean network of excellence for OCean Ecosystems ANalysiS (EUR-OCEANS)
WP6-SYSNS-1098European Commission