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Facing the necessity of describing estuarine ecosystems: a review of food web ecology study techniques

Abstract

Estuarine areas are sites of human pressures and degradation. In order to maintain and/or restore the quality of estuarine ecosystems, it is necessary to describe their structure and functioning. For that reason, many recent scientific works focus on food webs, which are depicted as being good indicators of the functioning of aquatic ecosystems. Hence it is necessary to question how estuarine food webs can be described. This paper proposes a pragmatic and practical review of the most widely used techniques (stomach/gut content analysis, stable isotope ratios and biochemical markers) with emphasis on their main advantages, drawbacks and bias according to possible ecological goals (ecological quality objectives). These approaches, although quite different, provide complementary information about the trophic relationships in the system, that is to say the sources of organic matter and the description of energy flows between the different compartments of the food web. In trophic models, all these results can be integrated to a global picture of the estuarine trophic structure. This is considered to be an essential step towards the understanding of the functioning of these ecosystems.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank their colleagues of the Cemagref, Michel Girardin and Mario Lepage, for their advices and their support. They would particularly thank Isabelle Ortusi and Prof. Mike Elliott (University of Hull, U.K.) for checking the English.

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Pasquaud, S., Lobry, J. & Elie, P. Facing the necessity of describing estuarine ecosystems: a review of food web ecology study techniques. Hydrobiologia 588, 159–172 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10750-007-0660-3

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Keywords

  • Estuarine food web
  • Stomach/gut content analysis
  • Stable isotope
  • Biochemical marker
  • Trophic model