Pathways of organic carbon utilization in small lakes: Results from a whole-lake 13C addition and coupled model

Cole, Jonathan J., Stephen R. Carpenter, James F. Kitchell, Michael L. Pace

Limnol. Oceanogr., 47(6), 2002, 1664-1675 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2002.47.6.1664

ABSTRACT: In many small aquatic ecosystems, watershed loading of organic C exceeds autochthonous primary production. Although this allochthonous organic C has long been thought of as refractory, multiple lines of evidence indicate that substantial portions are respired in the receiving aquatic ecosystem. To what extent does this terrestrial C support secondary production of invertebrates and fish? Do current models adequately trace the pathways of allochthonous and autochthonous C through the food web? We evaluated the roles of allochthonous and autochthonous organic C by manipulating 13C content of dissolved inorganic C in a small, softwater, humic lake, thereby labeling autochthonous primary production for about 20 d. To ensure rapid and sufficient uptake of inorganic 13C, we enriched the lake with modest amounts of N and P. We constructed a carbon flow model based on the ambient and manipulated levels of 13C in C compartments in the lake, along with information on key rate processes. Despite the short nature of this experiment, several results emerged. (1) Fractionation of photosynthetically assimilated 13C-CO2 by phytoplankton (ยด) is lower (~6‰) than physiologic models would estimate (~20‰). (2) Bacteria respire, but do not assimilate, a large amount of terrestrially derived dissolved organic C (DOC) and pass little of this C to higher trophic levels. (3) The oxidation of terrestrial DOC is the major source of dissolved inorganic C in the lake. (4) Zooplankton production, a major food of young-of-year fishes, is predominantly derived from current autochthonous carbon sources under the conditions of this experiment.

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