Combining Organic Matter Source and Relative Trophic Position Determinations to Explore Trophic Structure
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- Wilson, R.M., Chanton, J., Lewis, G. et al. Estuaries and Coasts (2009) 32: 999. doi:10.1007/s12237-009-9183-7
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Stable isotope ratios of carbon and sulfur were used to assess organic matter utilization of numerically abundant consumers present in Apalachicola Bay, FL, USA. These results were used to infer nitrogen isotopic enrichment of organic matter sources in an effort to establish baseline δ15N enrichment for trophic evaluations. We compared results from concentration-independent and concentration-dependent mixing models and found that the two methods resulted in widely different conclusions about the importance of organic matter sources that varied ninefold in sulfur concentrations. Nitrogen isotopic enrichment was used to determine relative trophic positions of consumer organisms. Source elemental concentrations of nitrogen were also considered in the calculation of relative trophic levels in a concentration-dependent approach. Concentration-independent and concentration-dependent methods of calculating trophic results were compared. While relative trophic levels of individual species varied continuously from approximately 1.7 to 3.5, comparisons of trophic level among consumers indicated four possible trophic groupings. Filter feeders (mussels and oysters) made up the lowest trophic tier while teleost fishes made up the highest trophic tier. Invertebrates sampled were assigned intermediate nondiscrete trophic levels. Because δ15N values of important organic matter sources in the system were similar, the concentration-independent and concentration-dependent methods did not result in significantly different conclusions about trophic level for any of the consumers examined. However, a comparison of the two methods applied to a hypothetical case found that differences in base δ15N values ranging approximately 4‰ resulted in significantly different trophic-level assignments when comparing the concentration-dependent and concentration-independent methods of trophic-level calculations. Our results confirm that consideration of the elemental concentrations of the base organisms is an important factor in determining source contributions and may affect trophic-level calculations in systems with a sufficient range of base nitrogen enrichment. However, this result depended on the relative isotopic signatures of the chosen sources and their elemental concentrations and should be considered individually for each system.