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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 446:1-22 (2012)  -  DOI:

Fatty acids as dietary tracers in benthic food webs

Jennifer R. Kelly*, Robert E. Scheibling

Biology Department, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia B3H 4J1, Canada

ABSTRACT: Fatty acid (FA) analysis is a well-established tool for studying trophic interactions in marine habitats. However, its application to benthic food webs poses 2 particular challenges. First, unlike pelagic zooplankton, benthic consumers have access to different sizes and functional groups of primary producers and may consume a highly mixed diet. Classes of benthic primary producers are distinct in their overall FA composition, but most do not possess unique marker FAs that can be used to identify their contribution to higher trophic levels. Second, unlike mammalian predators, benthic invertebrates have the capacity to significantly modify their dietary FAs and thereby obscure markers for food sources. Controlled feeding studies have been used to distinguish dietary tracer FAs from those that are modified by the consumer in several benthic invertebrates, but more such studies are needed. Despite these challenges, FAs have been used to study trophic structure in a variety of benthic habitats including the deep sea, polar regions, estuaries, and the rocky subtidal zone. However, the complexity of benthic food webs and lack of unique markers impose uncertainties in the interpretation of FA data from field studies. Multivariate analyses are necessary for analyzing FA datasets, although univariate tests can be useful for comparing levels of informative FAs among food sources and consumers. Combining FA analysis with other lines of evidence, such as stable isotope analysis, offers a more reliable approach to examining trophic interactions in benthic systems.

KEY WORDS: Fatty acids · Trophic interactions · Benthic consumers · Macroalgae · Invertebrates

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Cite this article as: Kelly JR, Scheibling RE (2012) Fatty acids as dietary tracers in benthic food webs. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 446:1-22.

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