Terrestrial subsidies to lake food webs: an experimental approach
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- Bartels, P., Cucherousset, J., Gudasz, C. et al. Oecologia (2012) 168: 807. doi:10.1007/s00442-011-2141-7
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Cross-ecosystem movements of material and energy are ubiquitous. Aquatic ecosystems typically receive material that also includes organic matter from the surrounding catchment. Terrestrial-derived (allochthonous) organic matter can enter aquatic ecosystems in dissolved or particulate form. Several studies have highlighted the importance of dissolved organic carbon to aquatic consumers, but less is known about allochthonous particulate organic carbon (POC). Similarly, most studies showing the effects of allochthonous organic carbon (OC) on aquatic consumers have investigated pelagic habitats; the effects of allochthonous OC on benthic communities are less well studied. Allochthonous inputs might further decrease primary production through light reduction, thereby potentially affecting autotrophic resource availability to consumers. Here, an enclosure experiment was carried out to test the importance of POC input and light availability on the resource use in a benthic food web of a clear-water lake. Corn starch (a C4 plant) was used as a POC source due to its insoluble nature and its distinct carbon stable isotope value (δ13C). The starch carbon was closely dispersed over the bottom of the enclosures to study the fate of a POC source exclusively available to sediment biota. The addition of starch carbon resulted in a clear shift in the isotopic signature of surface-dwelling herbivorous and predatory invertebrates. Although the starch carbon was added solely to the sediment surface, the carbon originating from the starch reached zooplankton. We suggest that allochthonous POC can subsidize benthic food webs directly and can be further transferred to pelagic systems, thereby highlighting the importance of benthic pathways for pelagic habitats.