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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 487:55-69 (2013)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps10402

Seasonal variability in stable isotopes of estuarine consumers under different freshwater flow regimes

Jill A. Olin1,4,*, Nigel E. Hussey1, Scott A. Rush1,5, Gregg R. Poulakis2, Colin A. Simpfendorfer3, Michelle R. Heupel3, Aaron T. Fisk1

1Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, University of Windsor, Windsor, Ontario N9B 3P4, Canada
2Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, Charlotte Harbor Field Laboratory, Port Charlotte, Florida 33954-1006, USA
3School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland 4811, Australia
4Present address: Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70803, USA
5Present address: College of Forest Resources, Forest and Wildlife Research Center, Box 9680, Mississippi 39762-9690, USA
*Email:

ABSTRACT: Freshwater inflow from riverine sources is essential for estuarine productivity. However, human alterations to freshwater flow have resulted in modifications to the seasonal complexities of estuarine communities. To quantify changes in energy transfer at the trophic guild and consumer levels that result from anthropogenic-altered flow, we evaluated seasonal trends over a 1 yr period in stable isotopes of carbon (δ13C), nitrogen (δ15N) and sulfur (δ34S) in nekton species sampled from 2 subtropical tidal rivers, one that is relatively natural and one that experiences regulated flow discharges that result in autumnal high-flow events. Primary and secondary consumers in the flow-altered estuary exhibited a significant depletion in 13C and enrichment in 15N (~2‰ in both isotopes respectively) with the onset of the wet season, while the stable isotope values of high trophic level species (i.e. ≥ tertiary consumers) remained relatively consistent, trends were not apparent in the natural estuary. These isotopic trends were evident in both benthic and pelagic consumers, suggesting a food web-wide influence of altered flow on nutrient dynamics. Although the relative trophic structure, based on δ15N, was consistent across seasons and among estuaries, the δ34S values were less seasonally variable in the flow-altered estuary and were indicative of more terrestrial/freshwater influenced values compared to the natural estuary, suggesting a lengthened influence of high flow. Although limited in temporal scope, our results indicate a noteworthy difference in seasonal isotope dynamics of lower trophic level consumers in a flow-altered estuarine food web. The importance of this effect on ecosystem function warrants further attention.


KEY WORDS: Disturbance · Benthic · Pelagic · Resource use · Stable isotopes · Trophic guilds


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Cite this article as: Olin JA, Hussey NE, Rush SA, Poulakis GR, Simpfendorfer CA, Heupel MR, Fisk AT (2013) Seasonal variability in stable isotopes of estuarine consumers under different freshwater flow regimes. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 487:55-69. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps10402

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