, Volume 325, Issue 3, pp 219–222

Scope for use of stable carbon isotopes in discerning the incorporation of forest detritus into aquatic foodwebs

  • R. L. France


Stable isotope analysis of carbon has been proposed as a means for discerning the incorporation of terrestrial forest detritus into aquatic foodwebs, and as such, has the potential to be used as a biomonitor of the aquatic effects of riparian deforestation. A synthesis of 13C/12C data from the literature indicates, however, that the scope for successful use of carbon isotope analysis in separating allochthonous and autochthonous food provenance is much more limited than was once thought. This occurs due the overlap in carbon isotope ratios between terrestrial forest detritus and those of both lotic attached algae and lentic filamentous attached algae. Only within rockyshored, oligotrophic lakes without macrophytes, and forest-fringed estuaries and lagoons, where the carbon isotope ratios for attached algae and forest detritus are significantly different, is there any likelihood of discerning the incorporation of allochthonous carbon into aquatic foodwebs using 13C/12C values alone.

Key words

13C/12C ratios forest detritus riparian deforestation 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Araujo-Lima, C., B. R. Forsberg, R. Victoria & L. Mortinelli, 1986. Energy sources for detritivorous fishes in the Amazon. Science 234: 1256–1258.Google Scholar
  2. Bird, M. I., W. S. Fyfe, D. Pinheiro-Dick & A. R. Chivas, 1992. Carbon isotope indicators of catchment vegetation in the Braz. Amazon. Glob. Biogeochem. Cycl. 6: 293–306.Google Scholar
  3. Bunn, S. E. & P. I. Boon, 1993. What sources of organic carbon drive food webs in billabongs? A study based on stable isotope analysis. Oecologia 96: 85–94.Google Scholar
  4. Bunn, S. E., D. R. Barton, H. B. N. Hynes, G. Power & M. A. Pope, 1989. Stable isotope analysis of carbon flow in a tundra river system. Can. J. Fish. aquat. Sci. 46: 1769–1775.Google Scholar
  5. Cooperman, J., 1993. Cutting down Canada. In Devell (ed.), B. Clearcut: the tragedy of industrial forestry. Sierra Club Books/Earth Island Press. 289 pp.Google Scholar
  6. Currin, C. A., S. Y. Newell & H. W. Paerl, 1995. The role of standing dead Spartina alterniflora and benthic microalgae in salt marsh food webs: considerations based on multiple stable isotope analysis. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 121: 99–116.Google Scholar
  7. Forsberg, B. R., C. Araujo-Lima, L. A. Martinelli, R. L. Victoria & J. A. Bonassi, Autotrophic carbon sources for fish of the central Amazon. Ecology 74: 643–652.Google Scholar
  8. France, R., 1995a. Critical examination of stable isotope analysis as a means for tracing carbon pathways in stream ecosystems. Can. J. Fish. aquat. Sci. 52: 651–656.Google Scholar
  9. France, R., 1995b. Carbon-13 enrichment in benthic algae: foodweb implications. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 124: 307–312.Google Scholar
  10. France, R., 1995c. Differentiation between littoral and pelagic foodwebs in lakes using stable carbon isotopes. Limnol. Oceanogr. 40: 1310–1313.Google Scholar
  11. France, R., 1995d. Stable isotope survey of the role of macrophytes in the carbon flow of aquatic foodwebs. Vegetatio in press.Google Scholar
  12. France, R., 1995e. Source variability in σ15N of autotrophs as a potential aid in measuring allochthony in freshwaters. Ecography 18: 318–320.Google Scholar
  13. France, R. & R. Peters, 1995. Predictive model of the effects on lake metabolism of decreased airborne litterfall through riparian deforestation. Conserv. Biol. 9: 1578–1586.Google Scholar
  14. Fry, B. & E. B. Sheff, 1984.σ13c measurements as indicators of carbon flow in marine and freshwater ecosystems. Contrib. Mar. Sci. 27: 15–47.Google Scholar
  15. Hackney, C. T. & E. B. Haines, 1980. Stable carbon isotope composition of fauna and organic matter collected in a Mississippi estuary. Estuar. Coast. Mar. Sci. 10: 703–708.Google Scholar
  16. Hamilton, S. K., W. M. Lewis & S. J. Sippel, 1992. Energy sources for aquatic animals in the Orinoco River floodplain: evidence from stable isotopes. Oecologia 89: 324–330.Google Scholar
  17. Keeley, J. E. & D. R. Sandquist, 1992. Carbon: freshwater plants. Plant, Cell Envir. 15: 1021–1035.Google Scholar
  18. Lugo, A. E. & G. Cintron, 1975. The mangrove forests of Puerto Rico and their management. In Walsh, G. E, S. C. Snedaker & H. J. Teal (eds), Proc. Int. Symp. Biol. Mgmt Mangroves. Vol. II. University of Florida: 825–846.Google Scholar
  19. McCory, C., 1993. Canada-Brazil of the North. In Devell, B. Clearcut: the tragedy of industrial forestry. Sierra Club Books/Earth island Press. 289 pp.Google Scholar
  20. McLaren, C., 1990. Heartwood. Equinox 53: 42–55.Google Scholar
  21. Neill, C. & J. C. Cornwell, 1992. Stable carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur isotopes in a prairie marsh food web. Wetlands 12: 217–224.Google Scholar
  22. Odum, W. E. & E. J. Heald, 1972. Trophic analyses of an estuarine mangrove community. Bull. Mar. Sci. 22: 671–738.Google Scholar
  23. Peterson, B. J. & B. Fry, 1987. Stable isotopes in ecosystem studies. Annu. Rev. Ecol. Systemat. 18: 293–320.Google Scholar
  24. Rodelli, M. R., J. N. Gearing, P. J. Gearing, N. Marshall & A. Sasekumar, 1984. Stable isotope ratio as a tracer of mangrove carbon in Malaysian ecosystems. Oceologia 61: 326–333.Google Scholar
  25. Rounick, J. S. & M. J. Winterbourn, 1986. Stable carbon isotopes and carbon flow in ecosystems. Bioscience 36: 171–177.Google Scholar
  26. Rounick, J. S., M. J. Winterbourn & G. L. Lyon, 1982. Differential utilization of allochthonous and autochthonous inputs by aquatic invertebrates in some New Zealand streams: a stable isotope study. Oikos 39: 191–198.Google Scholar
  27. Stoner, A. W. & R. J. Zimmerman, 1988. Food pathways associated with penaeid shrimps in a mangrove-fringed estuary. Fish. Bull. 86: 543–551.Google Scholar
  28. Teal, J. M., 1962. Energy flow in the salt marsh ecosystem of Georgia. Ecology 43: 614–624.Google Scholar
  29. Vanote, R. L., G. W. Minshall, K. W. Cummins, J. R. Sedell & C. E. Cushing, 1980. The river continum concept. Can. J. Fish. aquat. Sci. 37: 130–137.Google Scholar
  30. Wada, E., Y. Kabaya & Y. Kurihara, 1993. Stable isotope structure of aquatic ecosystems. J. Biosci. 18: 483–499.Google Scholar
  31. Winterbourn, M. J. & J. S. Rounick, 1985. Benthic faunas and food resources in small New Zealand streams subjected to different forestry practises. Verh. int. Ver. Limnol. 22: 2148–2152.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. L. France
    • 1
  1. 1.Dept. BiologyMcGill UniversityMontrealCanada

Personalised recommendations