, Volume 441, Issue 1, pp 93-106

Carbon flow in the littoral food web of an oligotrophic lake

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


Benthic food web dynamics and carbon flow were examined in the littoral zone of Lake Coleridge, a large deep oligotrophic lake, using radioactive and stable isotope techniques in conjunction with analyses of stomach contents of the fauna. We specifically address two hypotheses: (1) that macrophytes only contribute to the carbon flow to higher trophic levels when they have decayed; and (2) that epiphytic algae is the major source of carbon for macroinvertebrates, and thus fish, with only minor contributions from phytoplankton or terrestrial sources. Epiphytic diatoms were a major component of the stomach contents of the gastropod snail Potamopyrgus antipodarum, and of chironomids. Animal remains were also common in the diet of some chironomids, while amorphous organic matter predominated in the stomachs of oligochaetes. A variety of epiphytic algal taxa was found in trichopteran larvae. Feeding rate of P. antipodarum measured with radioactive tracers increased by 10× on decayed macrophytes (Elodea) compared with live material, while feeding rates on characean algae increased by a factor of 3 when decayed material was presented. However, assimilation rates were less than 20% on decayed material compared with 48–52% on live material. Potential carbon sources were easily distinguished based on their δ13C values, although isotopic ratios showed significant variation among sites. Epiphytic algae showed less variation among sites than macrophytes and were depleted by 4–5‰ compared with macrophytes. Detrital material, organic matter in the sediments and plankton were significantly depleted in δ13C relative to macrophytes and slightly depleted relative to epiphytic algae. Most macroinvertebrate taxa showed a similar pattern among sites to macrophytes and epiphytic algae. P. antipodarum and chironomids were slightly enriched compared with epiphytic algae. Ratios for the common bully (Gobiomorphus cotidianus) were generally consistent with a diet dominated by chironomids, while there was some evidence for terrestrial inputs for koaro (Galaxias brevipinnis) and juvenile brown trout. Epiphytic algae appear to underpin much of the production in the littoral zone of this oligotrophic lake, with trichopteran and chironomid larvae mediating carbon flows from algae to fish. Macrophytes do not make a major contribution directly to carbon flow to higher trophic levels even when decayed. The lack of a direct link between macrophytes and higher trophic levels is due to the faunal composition, including a lack of large herbivores.