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Estimating contributions of pelagic and benthic pathways to consumer production in coupled marine food webs

Lookup NU author(s): Jessica Duffill Telsnig, Professor Aileen MillORCiD, Professor Nick Polunin



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


1. Pelagic and benthic systems usually interact, but their dynamics and production rates differ.Such differences influence the distribution, reproductive cycles, growth rates, stability andproductivity of the consumers they support. Consumer preferences for, and dependence on,pelagic or benthic production are governed by the availability of these sources of productionand consumer life history, distribution, habitat, behavioural ecology, ontogenetic stage andmorphology.2. Diet studies may demonstrate the extent to which consumers feed on prey in pelagic orbenthic environments. But they do not discriminate benthic production directly supported byphytoplankton from benthic production recycled through detrital pathways. The former willtrack the dynamics of phytoplankton production more closely than the latter.3. We develop and apply a new analytical method that uses carbon (C) and sulfur (S) naturalabundance stable isotope data to assess the relative contribution of pelagic and benthicpathways to fish consumer production.4. For 13 species of fish that dominate community biomass in the northern North Sea(estimated >90% of total biomass), relative modal use of pelagic pathways ranged from <25%to >85%. Use of both C and S isotopes as opposed to just C reduced uncertainty in relativemodal use estimates. Temporal comparisons of relative modal use of pelagic and benthicpathways revealed similar ranking of species dependency over four years, but annualvariation in relative modal use within species was typically 10-40%.5. For the total fish consumer biomass in the study region, the C and S method linkedapproximately 70% and 30% of biomass to pelagic and benthic pathways respectively. Aswell as providing a new method to define consumers’ links to pelagic and benthic pathwaysour results demonstrate that a substantial proportion of fish biomass, and by inferenceproduction, in the northern North Sea is supported by production that has passed throughtransformations on the seabed.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Duffill Telsnig J, Jennings S, Mill A, Walker N, Parnell A, Polunin NVC

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of Animal Ecology

Year: 2019

Volume: 88

Issue: 3

Pages: 405-415

Print publication date: 10/03/2019

Online publication date: 22/11/2018

Acceptance date: 25/01/2018

Date deposited: 14/12/2018

ISSN (print): 0021-8790

ISSN (electronic): 1365-2656

Publisher: Wiley


DOI: 10.1111/1365-2656.12929


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