The source and fate of organic matter and the significance of detrital pathways in a tropical coastal ecosystem

Wai, Tak-Cheung, Jasmine S. S. Ng, Kenneth M. Y. Leung, David Dudgeon, Gray A. Williams

Limnol. Oceanogr., 53(4), 2008, 1479-1492 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2008.53.4.1479

ABSTRACT: Stable isotope analysis (SIA) and fatty acid profiling were used to elucidate the supply and fate of energy in a tropical coastal ecosystem in Hong Kong, southern China. To investigate seasonal changes in source supply on the diets of different trophic guilds, measurements were taken in three rocky bays before and after the onset of the summer monsoon, when supply of both marine macroalgal and streamborne terrestrial detritus increases. Particulate organic matter, comprising a mixture of marine and terrestrial sources, was the ultimate food source (>60%) for suspension feeders, which were the major prey items of a predatory gastropod (Thais). Increased levels of bacterial fatty acid biomarkers (BaFA) were recorded after the onset of the summer monsoon, indicating amplified dependence on detrital materials in both primary and secondary consumers. The considerable increase in the detritus fraction of sedimentary organic matter at the onset of the summer monsoon was reflected by enhanced levels of BaFA, possibly due to the degeneration of macroalgae. Significant contributions of this marine algal detritus to deposit feeders (Holothuria, 36%) and of terrestrial detritus to an echinoid grazer (Salmacis, 14%) were revealed by SIA mixing models as well as elevated BaFA concentrations. These results indicate a higher dependence on heterotrophic food chains based on decomposing marine algae and terrestrial detritus after the onset of the summer monsoon. Such seasonal variation in the importance of detrital energy sources is, therefore, likely to be important to coastal ecosystem functioning in the monsoonal tropics.

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