Spatial variations in food web structures with alternative stable states: evidence from stable isotope analysis in a large eutrophic lake
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Food web structures are well known to vary widely among ecosystems. Moreover, many food web studies of lakes have generally attempted to characterize the overall food web structure and have largely ignored internal spatial and environmental variations. In this study, we hypothesize that there is a high degree of spatial heterogeneity within an ecosystem and such heterogeneity may lead to strong variations in environmental conditions and resource availability, in turn resulting in different trophic pathways. Stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes were employed for the whole food web to describe the structure of the food web in different sub-basins within Taihu Lake. This lake is a large eutrophic freshwater lake that has been intensively managed and highly influenced by human activities for more than 50 years. The results show significant isotopic differences between basins with different environmental characteristics. Such differences likely result from isotopic baseline differences combining with a shift in food web structure. Both are related to local spatial heterogeneity in nutrient loading in waters. Such variation should be explicitly considered in future food web studies and ecosystem-based management in this lake ecosystem.
Keywordsstable isotope food web structure spatial heterogeneity Taihu Lake community
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