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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 414:145-153 (2010)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps08737

A marked gradient in δ13C values of clams Mercenaria mercenaria across a marine embayment may reflect variations in ecosystem metabolism

Autumn J. Oczkowski1,2,*, Michael E. Q. Pilson1, Scott W. Nixon1

1Graduate School of Oceanography, University of Rhode Island, Narragansett, Rhode Island 02882, USA
2Present address: United States Environmental Protection Agency, Atlantic Ecology Division, Narragansett, Rhode Island 02882, USA

ABSTRACT: Although stable isotopes of organic carbon (δ13C) are typically used as indicators of terrestrial, intertidal, and offshore organic carbon sources to coastal ecosystems, there is evidence that δ13C values are also sensitive to in situ ecosystem metabolism. To investigate this phenomenon, we examined δ13C values of filter-feeding hard clams Mercenaria mercenaria from 13 locations in Greenwich Bay, a sub-estuary of Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island (USA). The δ13C values of the clams showed a marked linear gradient of 2‰ over the 4 km length of Greenwich Bay (–19 to –17‰), from lower δ13C values in the inner bay to higher values at the mouth, where Greenwich Bay joins Narragansett Bay proper (R2 = 0.94, p < 0.0001). This is in contrast to previous work that has shown that δ13C values of clams in Narragansett Bay proper (over 40 km long) are homogenous (mean ± SD, –16.8 ± 0.6 ‰, n = 247). Mean daily pH, temperature, and salinity data from 2 fixed monitoring stations were used to estimate aqueous CO2 (CO2(aq)) concentrations in the surrounding water. CO2(aq) concentrations were higher in inner Greenwich Bay than immediately outside of the bay, suggesting that the dissolved inorganic carbon sources supporting phytoplankton production are quite different across the bay. The outer Greenwich Bay clams appear to feed on Narragansett Bay phytoplankton with higher δ13C values that are grown in a higher pH, more bicarbonate-rich environment. In contrast, the inner Greenwich Bay clams may feed on phytoplankton grown in lower pH water with a greater availability of CO2(aq). The lower δ13C of CO2(aq) relative to HCO3 is reflected in the phytoplankton and in the clams that feed on them. Our work suggests that δ13C values may be sensitive to changes in inorganic C in estuarine systems, which may confound attempts to use stable isotopes to identify organic carbon sources.


KEY WORDS: Carbon · Stable isotope · Ecosystem metabolism · pH · Greenwich Bay ·Narragansett Bay


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Cite this article as: Oczkowski AJ, Pilson MEQ, Nixon SW (2010) A marked gradient in δ13C values of clams Mercenaria mercenaria across a marine embayment may reflect variations in ecosystem metabolism. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 414:145-153. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps08737

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