, Volume 144, Issue 4, pp 659-672
Date: 22 Jul 2005

Tracing Mississippi River influences in estuarine food webs of coastal Louisiana

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Abstract

The Breton Sound estuary in southern Louisiana receives large amounts of Mississippi River water via a controlled diversion structure at the upstream end of the estuary. We used stable isotopes to trace spatial and seasonal responses of the downstream food web to winter and spring introductions of river water. Analysis of δ13C, δ15N, and δ34S in the common local consumers such as grass shrimp (Palaemonetes sp.), barnacles (Balanus sp.), and small plankton-feeding fish (bay anchovies, Anchoa mitchilli) showed that the diversion was associated with two of the five major source regimes that were supporting food webs: a river regime near the diversion and a river-influenced productive marsh regime farther away from the diversion. Mixing models identified a third river-influenced source regime at the marine end of the estuary where major natural discharge from the Bird’s Foot Delta wraps around into estuarine waters. The remaining two source regimes represented typical estuarine conditions: local freshwater sources especially from precipitation and a brackish source regime representing higher salinity marine influences. Overall, the Mississippi River diversion accounted for 75% of food web support in the upper estuary and 25% in the middle estuary, with influence strongest along known flow pathways and closest to the diversion. Isotopes also traced seasonal changes in river contributions, and indicated increased plant community productivity along the major flow path of diversion water. In the Breton Sound estuary, bottom–up forcing of food webs is strongly linked to river introductions and discharge, occurring in spatial and temporal patterns predictable from known river input regimes and known hydrologic circulation patterns.

Communicated by Jim Ehleringer