Stable isotope (δ13C) composition of the food web of the temperate Kariega estuary (Eastern Cape)

  • PW Froneman Department of Zoology and Entomology, Rhodes University, PO Box 94, Grahamstown 6140, South Africa


Stable isotope (δ13C) composition of the food web in the temperate Kariega estuary in summer and winter was analysed to determine the trophic relationships between 19 taxa. There was no seasonality in the stable isotope ratios of the dominant producers and consumers in the estuary. Two distinct zooplankton assemblages were identified. The first assemblage, comprising the different developmental stages of the copepods Acartia longipatella, A.natalensis and Pseudodiaptomus hessei and the mysid Mesopodopsis wooldridgei, had intermediate (δ13C)values ranging between -16 and -18. These values indicate a carbon source relatively depleted in carbon, most likely particulate organic matter derived mainly from the salt marsh and riparian vegetation. The second zooplankton assemblage, consisting of the caridean shrimp Palaemon peringueyi, the cumacean Iphinoe truncata and the amphipod Grandidierella lignorum, had (δ13C)values (range -9 to -18) enriched in carbon. The most likely sources of carbon for these zooplankters were the eelgrass Zostera capensis, its associated epiphytes and/or Spartina maritima. The isotope compositions of the seven most abundant fish species were also divided into two groups. The first group, comprising Atherina breviceps and Gilchristella aestuaria, had isotope values ranging between -14 and -1518, suggesting that they consume mainly zooplankton. The (δ13C)values of the second group, comprising Rhabdosargus holubi, Liza richardsonii, L. dumerilii, Caffrogobius natalensis and C. gilchristi ranged between -11 and -1218. These values suggest that these species assimilate a carbon source enriched in carbon derived either from eelgrass, Zostera capensis, its associated epiphytes or S. maritima. Results of the study suggest that there are two main carbon pathways for plankton and nekton in the Kariega estuary, carbon derived from the eelgrass and its associated epiphytes and carbon which has its origins in the salt marsh riparian vegetation and zooplankton.

Keywords: stable isotope analysis; temperate estuary; plankton; South Africa

(Afr J Aqua Sci: 2001 26(1): 49-56)

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1727-9364
print ISSN: 1608-5914