Reconstruction of trophic pathways between plankton and the North Iberian sardine (Sardina pilchardus) using stable isotopes
Keywords:phytoplankton, zooplankton, clupeids, stable isotopes, food web, upwelling, NE Atlantic
Feeding on phyto- and zooplankton by juvenile (< 1 year old) and adult sardines (Sardina pilchardus) was inferred from analyses of natural abundance of stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes in samples from the northwestern Iberian Peninsula (Spain) collected at the beginning of the upwelling season and peak spawning period of sardine. Plankton samples were fractionated through nets of 20, 200, 500, 1000 and 2000 ?m mesh-size and the muscle protein of individual sardines was isolated before isotopic determinations. Up to six planktonic components and two sardine feeding types were identified from the modes in the frequency distributions of isotope abundance values. Also, the most probable pathways for carbon and nitrogen flows between compartments were analysed. The resulting food web revealed a relatively large degree of omnivory, both in plankton and sardine components, which confirms that complex trophic interactions could also occur in pelagic upwelling ecosystems. Young sardines had isotope abundance values clustered around a single mode in the frequency distribution, while adult sardines displayed two main modes. These modes are interpreted as representative of two extreme feeding types: one related to the individual capture of zooplankton prey and the other to unselective filter-feeding. Although both types of feeding could include micro- (20-200 ?m) and mesozooplankton (200-2000 ?m) prey, phytoplankton appears to be ingested mainly by filter-feeding. However, even adult sardines must be mainly zoophagous to achieve the observed isotopic abundance values, taking into account current assumptions on stable isotope enrichment through trophic levels. From the differences in the resulting pathways using either carbon or nitrogen isotopes, we interpreted that sardines acquire most of the protein nitrogen from zooplankton while a substantial fraction of their carbon would derive from phytoplankton. These interpretations agree with the information available for this species on the gut contents and the anatomy of the filtering apparatus.
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