, Volume 138, Issue 2, pp 175-183
Date: 08 Nov 2003

Feeding level and individual metabolic rate affect δ13 C and δ15 N values in carp: implications for food web studies

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Stable isotope analyses are often used to calculate relative contributions of multiple food sources in an animal’s diet. One prerequisite for a precise calculation is the determination of the diet-tissue fractionation factor. Isotopic ratios in animals are not only affected by the composition of the diet, but also by the amount of food consumed. Previous findings regarding the latter point are controversial. As stable isotope analyses have often been used to investigate aquatic food webs, an experiment with carp (Cyprinus carpio L.) was carried out to test the influence of the feeding level and individual metabolic rate on δ13C and δ15N values of the whole body. After an initial phase, 49 carp were assigned randomly to four groups and fed the same diet at different levels for 8 weeks. For 15 fish, the energy budget was determined by indirect calorimetry. Feed and individual fish were analysed for their proximate composition, gross energy content and δ13C and δ15N values. δ13C and δ15N values differed significantly at different feeding levels. While δ13C values of the lipids and δ15N values decreased with increasing feeding rate, δ13C values of the lipid-free matter showed a non-linear pattern. Data obtained from fish held in the respirometric system revealed a relationship between δ13C values and the percentage retention of metabolizable energy. Our results show that reconstructing the diets of fish from the isotopic ratios when the feeding level and individual metabolic rates are unknown would introduce an error into the data used for back-calculation of up to 1‰ for both δ13C and δ15N values and may have substantial effects on the results of calculated diets. As other workers have pointed out, the development and application of stable isotopes to nutritional ecology studies is a field in its infancy and gives rise to erroneous, misleading results without nutritional, physiological and ecological knowledge.