Trophic position of zebra mussel veligers and their use of dissolved organic carbon

Barnard, Christine, Christine Martineau, Jean-Jacques Frenette, Julian J. Dodson, Warwick F. Vincent

Limnol. Oceanogr., 51(3), 2006, 1473-1484 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2006.51.3.1473

ABSTRACT: We evaluated by stable isotope analysis the trophic structure of an estuarine transition zone (ETZ) food web and the role of an invasive species, the veliger stage of the zebra mussel Dreissena polymorpha. In the St. Lawrence ETZ, where zebra mussel veligers are now the dominant zooplankton in summer, δ13C ranged from -31.2‰ (seston) to -16.1‰ (adult fish) and δ15N ranged from 2.6‰ to 17.4‰. Isotopic analysis of samples indicated that the overall food web was largely supported by autochthonous phytoplankton rather than by allochthonous terrestrial carbon. Large differences among the isotopic signals of veligers, cladocerans, and copepods suggested the use of different proportions of food items, and the isotopic values of fish larvae indicated no significant assimilation of veligers. The δ13C signature of the veligers was in a range consistent with feeding on free-living bacteria and dissolved organic carbon (DOC) or both, and freshwater algae incubated in situ. To investigate the possibility of DOC uptake by the veligers, we incubated veligers on 14C-labelled algal lysates. There was rapid uptake of DOC and incorporation into biomass, equivalent to 6% of the soft tissue dry weight per hour. Zebra mussel veligers are likely using autochthonous DOC as an alternate food source, and they occupy an exotic trophic position in which there is little direct interaction with other major components of the ETZ food web.

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