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Do high Arctic coastal food webs rely on a terrestrial carbon subsidy?

Harris, Carolynn M., McTigue, Nathan D., McClelland, James W., Dunton, Kenneth H.
Food webs 2018 v.15 pp. e00081
Bayesian theory, Delphinapterus leucas, carbon dioxide fixation, carnivores, coasts, energy, fauna, fish, global warming, invertebrates, marine mammals, migratory birds, mixing, nitrogen, omnivores, organic carbon, plasticity, runoff, stable isotopes, statistical models, trophic levels, watersheds, Arctic region
Lagoons are a prominent feature of Arctic coastlines, support diverse benthic food webs, and provide vital feeding grounds for fish, migratory birds, and marine mammals. Across the Arctic, loading of terrestrial/freshwater-derived organic carbon (CT) from watershed runoff and coastal erosion is predicted to increase with global warming, and may subsidize marine organic carbon as an energy source. To assess the importance of CT, we analyzed the trophic links and carbon assimilation pathways of twenty genera in five trophic guilds (suspension and filter feeders (Su/FF), surface and subsurface deposit feeders (Ss/De), epibenthic omnivorous invertebrates (Ep/Om), omnivorous fishes (Fish), and mammalian carnivores (Mam/Carn) as well as end-member organic matter (OM) sources. Because end-members had distinct carbon and nitrogen isotopic ratios, we employed a Bayesian stable isotope mixing model (simmr) to determine the contributions of CT, shelf OM, and marine microphytobenthos, to the diets of resident fauna. Ss/De and Ep/Om mainly assimilated marine-derived OM end-members. Su/FF, Fish, and beluga whales derived large portions of their diet from CT (>40%). We conclude that (1) coastal food webs are characterized by a high degree of omnivory and plasticity, (2) CT is an important OM subsidy to food webs, and (3) omnivorous fish transfer CT from lower to upper trophic levels.