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Oecologia. 2005 Aug;144(4):684-91. Epub 2005 Jul 7.

Movement of carbon among estuarine habitats and its assimilation by invertebrates.

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Centre for Aquatic Processes and Pollution, and School of Environmental and Applied Sciences, Griffith University, PMB 50, Gold Coast Mail Centre, Brisbane, QLD, 9726, Australia.


We measured the extent of movement of carbon and its assimilation by invertebrates among estuarine habitats by analysing carbon stable isotopes of invertebrates collected along transects crossing the boundary of two habitats. The habitats were dominated by autotrophs with distinct isotope values: (1) mudflats containing benthic microalgae (mean -22.6, SE 0.6 per thousand) and (2) seagrass and its associated epiphytic algae (similar values, pooled mean -9.8, 0.5 per thousand). Three species of invertebrates were analysed: a palaemonid shrimp, Macrobrachium intermedium, and two polychaete worms, Nephtys australiensis and Australonereis ehlersi. All species had a similar narrow range of isotope values (-9 to -14 per thousand), and showed no statistically significant relationship between position along transect and isotope values. Animals were relying on carbon from seagrass meadows whether they were in seagrass or on mudflats hundreds of metres away. Particulate organic matter collected from superficial sediments along the transects had similar values to animals (mean -11.1, SE 1.3 per thousand) and also showed no significant relationship with position. The isotope values of these relatively immobile invertebrates and the particulate detritus suggest that carbon moves from subtidal seagrass meadows to mudflats as particulate matter and is assimilated by invertebrates. This assimilation might be direct in the case of the detritivorous worm, A. ehlersi, but must be via invertebrate prey in the case of the carnivorous worm, N. australiensis and the scavenging shrimp, M. intermedium. The extent of movement of carbon among habitats, especially towards shallower habitats, is surprising since in theory, carbon is more likely to move offshore in situations such as the current study where habitats are in relatively open, unprotected waters.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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