The primary carbon sources utilised by fishes in the Mngazi and Mngazana estuaries, South Africa: a preliminary assessment

  • Sekiwe Mbande Zoology Department, Rhodes University, PO Box 94, Grahamstown 6140, South Africa
  • William Froneman Zoology Department, Rhodes University, PO Box 94, Grahamstown 6140, South Africa
  • Alan K Whitfield South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity, Private Bag 1015, Grahamstown 6140, South Africa
Keywords: fish, mangroves, stable carbon isotopes


A number of studies have used stable carbon isotopes to analyse aspects of the food web structure in South African estuaries but none has compared mangrove and non-mangrove estuarine food webs. This study compares the primary carbon sources utilised by the ichthyofauna in the Mngazana (with extensive mangroves) and Mngazi (without mangroves) estuaries. In contrast to the Kariega Estuary, where past research identified two basic carbon pathways, there were no clear carbon pathways within the Mngazi and Mngazana fish assemblages. Instead, the carbon isotopic values of fishes in both estuaries displayed a continuum rather than a tight clustering around particular energy sources. Most detritus feeders of the family Mugilidae from both estuaries were relatively more enriched (with carbon isotopic values ranging from –16.9‰ to –12.3‰) than other fish taxa. The isotopic values of the mullet species suggest a diet derived from relatively enriched carbon sources such as benthic microalgae, the eelgrass Zostera and associated epiphytes. Based on the isotopic values, piscivorous fishes from both estuaries could not be linked to specific prey fish taxa, but clearly the mullet species were not their main food source. The invertebrate feeders that were common to both estuaries showed greater isotopic variations in the Mngazana Estuary (–24.7‰ to –19.3‰) than in the Mngazi Estuary (–21.9‰ to –18.4‰), probably reflecting the higher diversity of habitats and invertebrate prey items in the Mngazana system. Generally, the isotopic signatures of fishes from the Mngazi Estuary were more enriched than those from the Mngazana Estuary, thus indicating the possible effect of δ13C-depleted mangrove-derived carbon in the latter system.

African Journal of Aquatic Science 2004, 29(2): 195–204

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eISSN: 1727-9364
print ISSN: 1608-5914