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Allochthonous marsh subsidies enhances food web productivity in an estuary and its surrounding ecosystem mosaic

February 29, 2024

Terrestrial organic matter is believed to play an important role in promoting resilient estuarine food webs, but the inherent interconnectivity of estuarine systems often obscures the origins and importance of these terrestrial inputs. To determine the relative contributions of terrestrial (allochthonous) and aquatic (autochthonous) organic matter to the estuarine food web, we analyzed carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur stable isotopes from multiple trophic levels, environmental strata, and habitats throughout the estuarine habitat mosaic. We used a Bayesian stable isotope mixing model (SIMM) to parse out relationships among primary producers, invertebrates, and a pelagic and demersal fish species (juvenile Chinook salmon and sculpin, respectively). The study was carried out in the Nisqually River Delta (NRD), Washington, USA, a recently-restored, macrotidal estuary with a diverse habitat mosaic. Plant groupings of macroalgae, eelgrass, and tidal marsh plants served as the primary base components of the NRD food web. About 90% of demersal sculpin diets were comprised of benthic and pelagic crustaceans that were fed by autochthonous organic matter contributions from aquatic vegetation. Juvenile salmon, on the other hand, derived their energy from a mix of terrestrial, pelagic, and benthic prey, including insects, dipterans, and crustaceans. Consequently, allochthonous terrestrial contributions of organic matter were much greater for salmon, ranging between 26 and 43%. These findings demonstrate how connectivity among estuarine habitat types and environmental strata facilitates organic matter subsidies. This suggests that management actions that improve or restore lateral habitat connectivity as well as terrestrial-aquatic linkages may enhance allochthonous subsidies, promoting increased prey resources and ecosystem benefits in estuaries.

Publication Year 2024
Title Allochthonous marsh subsidies enhances food web productivity in an estuary and its surrounding ecosystem mosaic
DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0296836 
Authors Melanie J. Davis, Isa Woo, Susan E. W. De La Cruz, Christopher S. Ellings, Sayre Hodgson, Glynnis Nakai
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title PLoS ONE
Index ID 70251920
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center