Tracing organic matter pathways in marine food webs using fatty acids and compound specific stable isotope analysis
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Organic matter inputs to the marine environment vary over seasonal and spatial scales, altering the type and availability of food sources for marine consumers. It is important to identify diet in order to understand basic ecology, characterize trophic interactions, and predict consequences of biotic and abiotic change within a community. Methods of direct observation of diet and feeding can be difficult, so indirect methods have been developed such as analysis of gut contents and fecal pellets. However, these methods only represent a snapshot of the last meal, and provide information about what was ingested, but not what was actually incorporated into consumer tissues. Therefore, biogeochemical approaches such as fatty acid (FA) and stable isotope analyses have been developed, which provide a time-integrated measure of diet. Further, stable isotope measurements of specific FA markers can be used to identify carbon sources, and can be applied to a variety of food web studies (Iverson et al., 2004). The purpose of this research is to examine the linkages between organic carbon sources and trophic transfer by consumers. To achieve this, we use FA biomarkers and compound specific stable isotope analysis (CSIA) to trace carbon cycling. This study has two main components: environmental sampling and experimental research. Chapter 1 demonstrates the use of these tools for elucidating seasonal trophic linkages in invertebrates collected from the Alaskan Arctic coast. Overall, invertebrate diets were characterized by terrestrial, detrital, and carnivorous sources in winter and spring, with a shift toward autochthonous diatom-based diets in summer. Our results demonstrate the importance of terrestrial organic carbon as a subsistence food source in winter, whereas in situ production in summer was critical for accumulating FA stores rich in essential FAs. Chapter 2 is an experimental feeding study designed to quantify the incorporation rates of 18:2n-6 from diet to tissue in Atlantic croaker. Liver tissues accumulated FAs more quickly than muscle tissues, but both tissues reached equilibrium at 5 to 7 weeks. From these experiments, quantitative assessments of diet sources can be made with confidence when using FAs to understand trophic interactions of Atlantic croaker and other similar species.