TRaCK: Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge

Science and knowledge that governments, communities, industries for sustainable use of Australia's tropical rivers and estuaries

Carbon from periphyton supports fish biomass in waterholes of a wet-dry tropical river

TitleCarbon from periphyton supports fish biomass in waterholes of a wet-dry tropical river
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsJardine, TD, Hunt, RJ, Faggotter, SJ, Valdez, D, Burford, MA, Bunn, SE
JournalRiver Research and Applications
Start Page560
Date Published06/2013
ISSN1535-1467 (Online)
Keywordsbenthic algae;tropics;detritus;phytoplankton;stable isotopes

The identification of the dominant sources of carbon supporting consumer biomass in aquatic food webs is often difficult but essential to understanding the limits to aquatic secondary production. Stable isotope analysis (SIA) is a powerful tool to estimate the contribution of different sources to consumers, but most food web studies using this approach limit analyses to a few key consumer taxa rather than measuring biomass-weighted contribution of sources to the entire community. Here we combined stable isotope analysis with standardized measurements of abundance and biomass of fishes and invertebrates in seven waterholes of a wet–dry tropical river sampled early and late in the dry season. We showed that periphyton (as opposed to phytoplankton and terrestrial C3 plant detritus) was responsible for most standing fish biomass (range 42%–97%), whereas benthic invertebrates were reliant on a mixture of the three sources (range 26%–100%). Furthermore, larger, older fishes at high trophic levels (catfish Neoarius spp., sleepy cod Oxyeleotris lineaolatus and barramundi Lates calcarifer) were supported almost exclusively by periphyton. Phytoplankton and detritus supported a considerable biomass of benthic and pelagic invertebrates, but only in taxa that occupied low trophic levels (e.g. snails). These measurements provide further evidence that although periphyton is relatively inconspicuous relative to other sources, it contributes disproportionately to metazoan biomass in wet–dry tropical rivers.