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Food web structure and seasonality of slope megafauna in the NW Mediterranean elucidated by stable isotopes: Relationship with available food sources

Papiol, V., Cartes, J.E., Fanelli, E., Rumolo, P.
Journal of sea research 2013 v.77 pp. 53-69
carbon, chlorophyll, community structure, correlation, environmental factors, fauna, fish, fluorescence, food webs, lipids, marine sediments, migratory behavior, nitrogen, nutrition, predators, seasonal variation, stable isotopes, summer, zooplankton
The food-web structure and seasonality of the dominant taxa of benthopelagic megafauna (fishes and decapods) on the middle slope of the Catalan Sea (Balearic Basin, NW Mediterranean) were investigated using the carbon and nitrogen stable isotope ratios of 29 species. Macrofauna (infauna, suprabenthos and zooplankton) were also analysed as potential prey. Samples were collected on a seasonal basis from 600 to 1000m depth between February 2007 and February 2008. The fishes and decapods were classified into feeding groups based on the literature: benthic feeders (including suprabenthos) and zooplankton feeders, the latter further separated into migratory and non-migratory species. Decapods exhibited depleted δ15N and enriched δ13C compared to fishes. Annual mean δ13C of fishes ranged from −19.15‰ (Arctozenus risso) to −16.65‰ (Phycis blennoides) and of δ15N from 7.27‰ (Lampanyctus crocodilus) to 11.31‰ (Nezumia aequalis). Annual mean values of δ13C of decapods were from −18.94‰ (Sergestes arcticus) to −14.78‰ (Pontophilus norvegicus), and of δ15N from 6.36‰ (Sergia robusta) to 9.72‰ (Paromola cuvieri). Stable isotopes distinguished well amongst the 3 feeding guilds established a priori, pointing to high levels of resource partitioning in deep-sea communities. The trophic structure of the community was a function of the position of predators along the benthic–pelagic gradient, with benthic feeders isotopically enriched relative to pelagic feeders. This difference allowed the identification of two food webs based on pelagic versus benthic consumption. Prey and predator sizes were also important in structuring the community. The most generalised seasonal pattern was δ13C depletion from winter to spring and summer, especially amongst migratory macroplankton feeders. This suggests greater consumption of pelagic prey, likely related with increases in pelagic production or with ontogenic migrations of organisms from mid-water to the Benthic Boundary Layer (BBL). δ15N enrichment was detected in periods of water column stratification, particularly amongst benthic feeder fishes. Megafauna relied on a single source of nutrition after peaks in surface production, presumably marine snow. Conversely, a larger array of food sources, probably from advection, sustained the community in periods of water column stratification. Benthic feeder δ13C values of both taxa were positively correlated with fluorescence measured 5m above the seabed and negatively correlated with total organic carbon in the sediments, both being food sources for deposit feeding macroinfauna. Macroplankton feeder δ13C values were linked to environmental variables related to vertical transport from surface production, i.e. lipids and chlorophyll and their degradation products, likely due to their stronger reliance on sinking phytodetritus through consumption of planktonic prey.