, Volume 144, Issue 4, pp 684–691 | Cite as

Movement of carbon among estuarine habitats and its assimilation by invertebrates

  • Rod M. ConnollyEmail author
  • Daniel Gorman
  • Michaela A. Guest
Stable Isotopes Issue


We measured the extent of movement of carbon and its assimilation by invertebrates among estuarine habitats by analysing carbon stable isotopes of invertebrates collected along transects crossing the boundary of two habitats. The habitats were dominated by autotrophs with distinct isotope values: (1) mudflats containing benthic microalgae (mean −22.6, SE 0.6‰) and (2) seagrass and its associated epiphytic algae (similar values, pooled mean −9.8, 0.5‰). Three species of invertebrates were analysed: a palaemonid shrimp, Macrobrachium intermedium, and two polychaete worms, Nephtys australiensis and Australonereis ehlersi. All species had a similar narrow range of isotope values (−9 to −14‰), and showed no statistically significant relationship between position along transect and isotope values. Animals were relying on carbon from seagrass meadows whether they were in seagrass or on mudflats hundreds of metres away. Particulate organic matter collected from superficial sediments along the transects had similar values to animals (mean −11.1, SE 1.3‰) and also showed no significant relationship with position. The isotope values of these relatively immobile invertebrates and the particulate detritus suggest that carbon moves from subtidal seagrass meadows to mudflats as particulate matter and is assimilated by invertebrates. This assimilation might be direct in the case of the detritivorous worm, A. ehlersi, but must be via invertebrate prey in the case of the carnivorous worm, N. australiensis and the scavenging shrimp, M. intermedium. The extent of movement of carbon among habitats, especially towards shallower habitats, is surprising since in theory, carbon is more likely to move offshore in situations such as the current study where habitats are in relatively open, unprotected waters.


Crustacea Estuary Polychaeta Stable isotopes Trophic subsidy 



We thank R. Diocares for mass spectrometry assistance and the marine ecology group at Griffith University for improving the manuscript. We gratefully acknowledge funding support from Fisheries R&D Corporation and the Cooperative Research Centre for Coastal Zone, Estuary and Waterway Management.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rod M. Connolly
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Daniel Gorman
    • 1
    • 3
  • Michaela A. Guest
    • 1
    • 2
    • 4
  1. 1.Centre for Aquatic Processes and Pollution, and School of Environmental and Applied SciencesGriffith UniversityBrisbaneAustralia
  2. 2.Cooperative Research Centre for Coastal ZoneEstuary and Waterway ManagementIndooroopillyAustralia
  3. 3.Southern Seas Ecology LaboratoriesUniversity of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia
  4. 4.Tasmanian Aquaculture and Fisheries InstituteUniversity of TasmaniaHobartAustralia

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