Stable isotope signatures of benthic invertebrates in arctic lakes indicate limited coupling to pelagic production

Hershey, A. E., S. Beaty, K. Fortino, S. Kelly, M. Keyse, C. Luecke, W. J. O'Brien, S. C. Whalen

Limnol. Oceanogr., 51(1), 2006, 177-188 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2006.51.1.0177

ABSTRACT: We tested the hypotheses that benthic macroinvertebrates, especially chironomid larvae in the Tribe Chironomini, from small oligotrophic arctic lakes are only weakly linked to pelagic food sources, and that they are trophically linked to biogenic methane. All offshore benthic macroinvertebrates sampled from 20 lakes were depleted in 13C compared with nearshore benthic macroinvertebrates. Nearshore macroinvertebrates had δ13C consistent with feeding on periphyton and/or terrestrial detritus. However, δ13C of offshore Chironomini, the dominant macroinvertebrate group, and oligochaetes, was more depleted than that of other offshore macroinvertebrates to a degree that could only be explained by a diet that included carbon derived from biogenic methane. Seston δ13C showed a small shift toward greater depletion in deeper lakes, but δ13C of Chironomini, oligochaetes, and predatory chironomids varied as a function of dissolved oxygen concentration (DO) at the sediment-water interface, which was generally lower in shallow lakes that were deep enough to stratify. In lakes with lower DO in bottom waters, the importance of methane-based carbon to Chironomini was greater. Experimental 15N enrichment of phytoplankton in small- and mid-sized arctic lakes resulted in limited 15N enrichment of most benthic macroinvertebrates, indicating that their productivity was not closely tied to pelagic production. It is likely that aerobic benthic metabolism of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) also is an important energy source for benthic macroinvertebrates in sediments because the link between benthic macroinvertebrate production and contemporary pelagic primary production was weak regardless of dependence on biogenic methane.

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