, Volume 106, Issue 3, pp 382–388

Origin and trophic importance of detritus-evidence from stable isotopes in the benthos of a small, temperate estuary

  • Thomas A. Schlacher
  • Tris H. Wooldridge
Ecosystems Ecology

DOI: 10.1007/BF00334566

Cite this article as:
Schlacher, T.A. & Wooldridge, T.H. Oecologia (1996) 106: 382. doi:10.1007/BF00334566


Ratios of 13C/12C and 15N/14N were measured in dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC), marginal vegetation, benthic macrodetritus (diameter > 1 mm) and selected invertebrate consumers in the Gamtoos estuary, South Africa to: (1) trace the provenance of benthic detrital deposits, and (2) determine the extent to which three abundant species of macroinvertebrates utilise this resource. DIC was strongly depleted in 13C with average δ13C values (−9.5±0.5‰) being typical of limnetic waters. Benthic detrital particles (δ13C−24.1±0.3‰) originated mainly from marginal vegetation (δ13C−25.7±0.3‰), but their slightly elevated carbon ratio suggests additional input from 13C-rich sources-possibly C4 plants cultivated on the floodplain. Populations of the fossorial ghost shrimp Callianassa kraussi, the bentho-pelagic amphipod Grandidierella lignorum and the epifaunal crab Hymenosoma robiculare together account for 96% of total benthic biomass in the upper regions of this estuary. Marked differences in trophic niches were evident among these three consumer species. Ghost shrimp (δ13C −32.5±0.3‰) foraged by filter-feeding on fine suspended particulate organic matter (δ13C−31.2±0.5‰). Amphipods (δ13C−28.0±0.6‰) utilised some benthic detritus but fed mainly on suspended material. Only the relatively rare crabs (δ13C−23.8±1.5‰) appeared to utilise benthic detrital particles to any significant extent. In the benthic consumer community of the upper Gamtoos estuary, suspension feeders make up 98% of biomass and thus clearly dominate over deposit feeders. This can be traced to the low contribution of higher plants (c. 13%) to overall carbon production, and detritus originating from macrophytes is consequently relatively unimportant in supporting invertebrate secondary production in this particular system.

Key words

Stable isotopes Detritus Macrophytes Estuary benthos Food webs 

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thomas A. Schlacher
    • 1
  • Tris H. Wooldridge
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of ZoologyUniversity of Port ElizabethPort ElizabethSouth Africa
  2. 2.Bad AusseeAustria

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