Absence of an effect of freshwater input on the stable isotope and fatty acid signatures of intertidal filter-feeders
Freshwater input is known to have the potential to influence marine pelagic and benthic communities through the export of nutrients, sediments and detritus. The increase in nutrients of riverine origin in coastal environments can enhance primary production in coastal areas, supporting a diverse and rich fauna. However, it is not clear how and to what extent these freshwater inputs influence marine populations. We investigated the potential effects of freshwater input on the diets of intertidal benthic organisms in situ on the east coast of South Africa, analysing their δ13C and δ15N stable isotope and fatty acid content. Specifically, we investigated the dietary regime of three barnacle and one mussel species in relation to their proximity to the mouths of large rivers. Strong dissimilarities among species were recorded with both techniques; however, no significant effect of freshwater input was observed for any of them. There are several possible explanations for these results, including rapid dilution, with fresh water near the river mouth being thoroughly mixed with seawater, resulting in a riverine influence being too weak to be detectable in the signatures of benthic populations. Our results contrast with a previous study conducted in the same area, where it was suggested that demersal organisms relied on freshwater-derived organic matter. Our study, however, showed no freshwater effect either within a few metres or tens of kilometres from the nearest large river mouths, supporting the notion that freshwater input does not play an important role for the benthic intertidal community in the ecosystems studied. Given that freshwater input is likely to diminish in the future, because of increased human abstraction of water, any potential effects of freshwater input on these marine populations are likely to be further reduced.
Keywords: benthos, marine ecology, primary consumers, rocky shore, spatial scale, trophic ecology