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Sources and transfer of organic matter in food webs of a Mediterranean coastal environment: evidence for spatial variability


The spatial variability in the food web structure of a Mediterranean semi-enclosed coastal environment (Stagnone di Marsala, Italy) was investigated using stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes. Organic matter sources and consumers were sampled in two locations with different environmental features (e.g. hydrodynamic regime, open-sea influence, vegetal coverage). Overall more 13C-enriched and 15N-depleted values were found in the central location than in the southern for organic matter sources and consumers. Pelagic consumers (zooplankton and juveniles of transient fish) showed slight spatial differences and in both locations seemed to depend on phytoplankton as the ultimate energy source. In contrast, benthic consumers (epifauna and resident fish) exhibited remarkable differences between locations. Spatial differences in organic matter sources were smaller than in benthic consumers and thus consumers presumably exploited different ultimate organic matter sources in the two locations. Sedimentary organic matter and epiphytes appeared to be the main primary producers transferred within the food web in both locations, and seagrasses seemed to play a non-negligible trophic role in the central location. The results of this paper corroborate the finding food webs are characterised by high spatial variability even on a small spatial scale and environmental heterogeneity more than primary production that seems to influence the trophic role of autotrophs.