MEPS 275:47-57 (2004)  -  doi:10.3354/meps275047

Depth variation in terrestrial particulate organic matter exploitation by marine coastal benthic communities off the Rhone River delta (NW Mediterranean)

Audrey M. Darnaude1,2,*, Chantal Salen-Picard1, Mireille L. Harmelin-Vivien1

1Centre d¹Océanologie de Marseille, CNRS UMR 6540, Université de la Méditerranée, Station Marine d¹Endoume, 13007 Marseille, France
2Present address: The Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, Lowestoft Laboratory, Pakefield Road, Lowestoft, Suffolk NR33 0HT, UK

ABSTRACT: Carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes were used to study depth variation in terrestrial particulate organic matter (POM) sedimentation off the mouth of the Rhone River delta, and its use by the main benthic invertebrates (polychaetes, crustaceans, molluscs and echinoderms) and flatfishes (Arnoglossus laterna, Buglossidium luteum and Solea solea). Coastal water POM and surface sediment exhibited low δ13C values, denoting dominance of terrestrial material in their carbon pools (25 to 80% and >50%, respectively), but the importance of river input differed as a function of depth. Terrestrial organic matter contribution to the total POM was greatest at 30-50 m (72 to 99%), and least at 70-100 m depth (25 to 77%). Most of the invertebrate groups studied (δ13C = -24.5 to -17.5‰ δ15N = 4.3 to 9.7 ‰) mainly relied on marine primary production irrespective of depth. However, deposit-feeding polychaetes mainly exploited terrestrial POM, and carnivorous and suspension-feeding polychaetes, bivalves, brachyurans and shrimps (Caridea) showed a partial uptake of terrestrial POM, depending on its availability. Incorporation of terrestrial POM by flatfishes (δ13C = -22.4 to -16.8 ‰ δ15N = 9.7 to 11.2 ‰) was species- and depth-dependent. It was related not only to the fishes¹ diets but also to the trophic adaptability of their prey. S. solea, the main consumer of deposit-feeding polychaetes, showed the lowest δ13C irrespective of depth, but flatfish exploitation of terrestrial POM peaked at 30-50 m, where both polychaete consumption by fishes and terrestrial POM use by the benthos were maximal. Unlike most estuarine systems, terrestrial inputs in deltaic areas can therefore peak at intermediate depths, where some of the marine macrobenthos, including flatfishes, efficiently exploit them. These results allow better assessment of the role of river input to marine coastal zones in increasing fish abundance, and will therefore be of major interest for demersal fisheries management off deltaic areas.


KEY WORDS: River inputs · Coastal ecosystems · Macrobenthos · Flatfishes · Stable isotopes


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