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Contributions of stable-isotope data to elucidating food webs of Mediterranean rocky littoral fishes

Lookup NU author(s): John Pinnegar, Professor Nick Polunin


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The food webs of rocky infra-littoral ecosystems in the Mediterranean have been little studied. In this investigation stable isotopes and dietary data were compared in an attempt to describe features of the food webs concerned. δ13C and δ15N were determined for plants, invertebrates and fishes from the Bay of Calvi, Corsica. Dietary data were derived from the literature. δ13C of plants ranged from -8.59‰ to -33.74‰, of benthic invertebrates from -17.0‰ to -20.52‰, of planktonic invertebrates from -20.08‰ to -22.34‰ and of fishes from -16.27‰ to -19.59‰. δ15N was generally greater at higher trophic levels. δ15N of plants was 0.95-2.92‰, of benthic invertebrates 1.69-6.54‰, of planktonic invertebrates 3.51-6.82‰ and of fishes 4.63-9.77‰, 13C enrichment tended to be associated with benthic food chains and 13C depletion with planktonic chains. Stable-isotope data suggested more varied diets for many species than implied by gut-contents data. Omnivory and trophic plasticity were widespread, and many consumers fed lower down the food chain than previous studies had suggested. Both stable-isotope and gut-contents analysis resolved differences between fishes feeding on planktonic and benthic prey and indicated that the herbivorous fish Sarpa salpa fed on a diet substantially different from that of other fishes. Zooplankton were important in the diets of several consumers (both primary and secondary), as was plankton derived detritus. One species of fish previously identified as planktivorous was shown to feed largely on benthic organisms, whilst several species of benthic invertebrates may feed on plankton-derived detritus. Although herbivores seemed to obtain most of their C from macroalgae, δ15N data suggested that many of these animals supplemented their intake of N, although gut-contents analysis did not provide evidence for such uptake. The isotopic data have elucidated several features of the food web which were would not otherwise have detected.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Pinnegar JK, Polunin NVC

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Oecologia

Year: 2000

Volume: 122

Issue: 3

Pages: 399-409

ISSN (print): 0029-8549

ISSN (electronic): 1432-1939

Publisher: Springer


DOI: 10.1007/s004420050046


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