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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 628:17-36 (2019)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13069

Benthic trophic networks of the southern North Sea: contrasting soft-sediment communities share high food web similarity

Jan Steger1,2,*, Hendrik Pehlke1,3, Benoit Lebreton4, Thomas Brey1,3, Jennifer Dannheim1,3

1Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, Am Handelshafen 12, 27570 Bremerhaven, Germany
2Department of Palaeontology, University of Vienna, Althanstrasse 14, 1090 Vienna, Austria
3Helmholtz Institute for Functional Marine Biodiversity at the University of Oldenburg, 23129 Oldenburg, Germany
4UMR Littoral, Environment and Societies, CNRS-University of La Rochelle, Institut du Littoral et de l’Environnement, 2 rue Olympe de Gouges, 17000 La Rochelle, France
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: We examined whether taxonomically distinct benthic communities from contrasting sediments in the German Bight (southern North Sea) also differ in their trophic structure. As a case study, we compared the Amphiura filiformis community (AFC) of silty sands and the Bathyporeia-Tellina community (BTC) of fine sands using a combination of stable isotope analysis and data on trophic interactions. Differences between the food webs were evident in the feeding guild composition of important primary consumers: deposit and interface feeders are the most diverse primary consumer guilds in the AFC, whereas suspension and interface feeders play a major role in the BTC, reflecting differences in physical properties and food availability at the sediment-water interface. While all primary consumer guilds had the same trophic level (TL) in the AFC, deposit feeders of the BTC occupied a trophic position intermediate between other primary and higher-order consumer guilds, likely explained by partially incomplete knowledge of their trophic ecology and selective feeding, including the ingestion of meiofauna. Most food web properties, however, were similar between the AFC and BTC: they mainly depend on pelagic primary production, reach TL 4 and are characterized by a prevalence of generalist higher-order consumers. Furthermore, both trophic networks had similar linkage densities and high directed connectance, the latter feature suggesting considerable food web robustness. Our findings suggest that although communities in the German Bight differ in some aspects of their trophic structure, they share a similar food web topology, indicating a comparable degree of resilience towards natural and anthropogenic disturbances.


KEY WORDS: Food web structure · Contrasting sediments · Amphiura filiformis community · Bathyporeia-Tellina community · Stable isotopes · Trophic links


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Cite this article as: Steger J, Pehlke H, Lebreton B, Brey T, Dannheim J (2019) Benthic trophic networks of the southern North Sea: contrasting soft-sediment communities share high food web similarity. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 628:17-36. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13069

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