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Tracing biogeochemical subsidies from glacier runoff into Alaska's coastal marine food webs

Arimitsu, Mayumi L., Hobson, Keith A., Webber, D'Arcy N., Piatt, John F., Hood, Eran W., Fellman, Jason B.
Global change biology 2018 v.24 no.1 pp. 387-398
Brachyramphus brevirostris, aquatic food webs, biogeography, coastal water, deuterium, environmental impact, fish, freshwater, glaciers, habitats, landscapes, life history, marine ecosystems, nitrogen, organic carbon, organic matter, radiocarbon dating, runoff, seabirds, stable isotopes, statistical models, subsidies, tissues, trophic levels, watersheds, Alaska, Gulf of Alaska
Nearly half of the freshwater discharge into the Gulf of Alaska originates from landscapes draining glacier runoff, but the influence of the influx of riverine organic matter on the trophodynamics of coastal marine food webs is not well understood. We quantified the ecological impact of riverine organic matter subsidies to glacier‐marine habitats by developing a multi‐trophic level Bayesian three‐isotope mixing model. We utilized large gradients in stable (δ¹³C, δ¹⁵N, δ²H) and radiogenic (Δ¹⁴C) isotopes that trace riverine and marine organic matter sources as they are passed from lower to higher trophic levels in glacial‐marine habitats. We also compared isotope ratios between glacial‐marine and more oceanic habitats. Based on isotopic measurements of potential baseline sources, ambient water and tissues of marine consumers, estimates of the riverine organic matter source contribution to upper trophic‐level species including fish and seabirds ranged from 12% to 44%. Variability in resource use among similar taxa corresponded to variation in species distribution and life histories. For example, riverine organic matter assimilation by the glacier‐nesting seabirds Kittlitz's murrelet (Brachyramphus brevirostris) was greater than that of the forest‐nesting marbled murrelet (B. marmoratus). The particulate and dissolved organic carbon in glacial runoff and near surface coastal waters was aged (12100–1500 years BP ¹⁴C‐age) but dissolved inorganic carbon and biota in coastal waters were young (530 years BP ¹⁴C‐age to modern). Thus terrestrial‐derived subsidies in marine food webs were primarily composed of young organic matter sources released from glacier ecosystems and their surrounding watersheds. Stable isotope compositions also revealed a divergence in food web structure between glacial‐marine and oceanic sites. This work demonstrates linkages between terrestrial and marine ecosystems, and facilitates a greater understanding of how climate‐driven changes in freshwater runoff have the potential to alter food web dynamics within coastal marine ecosystems in Alaska.