Food Web Structure in a Chesapeake Bay Eelgrass Bed as Determined through Gut Contents and 13C and 15N Isotope Analysis
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Changes in seagrass food-web structure can shift the competitive balance between seagrass and algae, and may alter the flow of energy from lower trophic levels to commercially important fish and crustaceans. Yet, trophic relationships in many seagrass systems remain poorly resolved. We estimated the food web linkages among small predators, invertebrate mesograzers, and primary producers in a Chesapeake Bay eelgrass (Zostera marina) bed by analyzing gut contents and stable C and N isotope ratios. Though trophic levels were relatively distinct, predators varied in the proportion of mesograzers consumed relative to alternative prey, and some mesograzers consumed macrophytes or exhibited intra-guild predation in addition to feeding on periphyton and detritus. These findings corroborate conclusions from lab and mesocosm studies that the ecological impacts of mesograzers vary widely among species, and they emphasize the need for taxonomic resolution and ecological information within seagrass epifaunal communities.