Spatial variation in basal resources supporting benthic food webs revealed for the inner continental shelf

Mark A. Grippo, John W. Fleeger, Stanislas F. Dubois and Richard Condrey

Limnol. Oceanogr., 56(3), 2011, 841-856 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2011.56.3.0841

ABSTRACT: We used stable isotopes to examine the relative importance of phytodetritus and microphytobenthos (MPB) in supporting benthic food webs on the Louisiana continental shelf. Primary producers and macroinfauna were collected from Ship Shoal (SS), a submerged, sandy, barrier island where sediment-associated algae are primarily MPB and from silty, off-shoal areas where sediment-associated algae are primarily phytodetritus or a mixture of the two resources. Macroinfauna, as individual taxa and trophic guilds, were significantly more enriched in 13C on SS indicating greater dependence on MPB, which is enriched in 13C compared to phytoplankton. Using δ13C in a two-source mixing model, the estimated MPB dietary contribution for SS macroinfauna averaged across trophic guilds, ranged from 53.4% to 83.0%, depending on the mixing-model end-members used, and 5 of 14 taxa had lower 95% confidence intervals (CI) > 20%, indicating that MPB was a primary resource for most SS macroinfauna. Off-shoal, the dietary contribution of MPB ranged from14.5% to 47.7% and most taxa had a lower CI near 0%. Settled phytoplankton are the primary microalgal food source in muddy sediments, but the importance of MPB increases in more sandy sediments where MPB are the predominant microalgal resource. Sandy shoals play a unique food-web role in deltaic shelf systems and support benthic food webs on the continental shelf.

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