Quantifying Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis) Dependence on Saltmarsh-Derived Productivity Using Stable Isotope Analysis


Each winter, populations of striped bass (Morone saxatilis) migrate north from the coastal mid-Atlantic region of the US to the coastal waters of New England. During this migration, striped bass spend significant time in estuaries and saltmarshes, presumably to forage. However, the extent to which saltmarsh productivity supports striped bass remains unresolved. We used a three-isotope Bayesian mixing model to determine the relative contribution of three primary producers [C4 saltmarsh cordgrass (Spartina spp.), phytoplankton, and benthic diatoms] to striped bass tissue. Phytoplankton (51 % contribution) and Spartina-derived sources (44 % contribution) are the primary sources of production to striped bass, while benthic diatoms made a relatively small contribution (5 %). Our results highlight the importance of saltmarshes to striped bass by showing that primary producers unique to saltmarsh ecosystems support a large proportion of striped bass production.

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The authors are grateful to the many interns who participated in the collection of the samples, especially David Behringer, John Pirie, Dane Nelson, and Beau Nelson. Special thanks to M. Otter for isotopic analysis. Many thanks to L. Deegan for her input on the writing of this manuscript. M. Mather for advising on the set up of the study. Funding for this research was provided by the Plum Island Ecosystems LTER (NSF-OCE 1238212), TIDE Project (NSF-DEB 0816963, 1354494), and the Northeast Climate Science Center. Research support was also provided to H. Baker by the Marine Biological Laboratory and Brown University’s Biology Program.

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Correspondence to James A. Nelson.

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Communicated by Craig Tobias

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Baker, H.K., Nelson, J.A. & Leslie, H.M. Quantifying Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis) Dependence on Saltmarsh-Derived Productivity Using Stable Isotope Analysis. Estuaries and Coasts 39, 1537–1542 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12237-016-0092-2

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  • Saltmarsh
  • Food web
  • Estuaries
  • Stable isotopes
  • Striped bass
  • Morone saxatilis