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Seasonal variations in the stable carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios (13C/12C and 15N/14N) of primary producers and consumers in a western Mediterranean coastal lagoon


Stable carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios (13C/12C and 15N/14N) of primary producers and consumers were investigated seasonally throughout 1999, in order to describe the food web in a western Mediterranean coastal lagoon (Lake of Sabaudia, central Italy). Particulate organic matter and algal material (seagrass epiphytes and macroalgae) seem to constitute the main food sources for primary consumers (zooplankton and small benthic invertebrates, respectively) throughout the sampling year, while the seagrass Cymodocea nodosa appears to play a negligible trophic role. As regards the ichthyofauna, carbon stable isotopes differentiated between planktivore and benthivore fish species. However, a benthic-pelagic coupling seems to occur, with some fish of higher trophic levels feeding both on benthic and pelagic materials. Analysis of variance showed that the interaction between the three main factors (speciesxsizexseason) significantly affects the isotopic composition of fish, suggesting the presence of intra- and inter-specific resource partitioning. Wide seasonal variations in the isotopic composition were observed in organic matter sources, invertebrates and fish, with a general trend towards depleted values in winter and enriched values in summer. The winter depletion of organic matter sources may be due to several environmental factors and seems to be mirrored in the upper trophic levels. Primary producers and invertebrates are known to have shorter time-integrated isotopic signatures than vertebrates, yet fish also exhibited seasonal isotopic differences. We concluded that the examined fish species can assume a new muscle isotopic signature relatively quickly in response to changes in the isotopic composition of their diet and/or diet shifts.