Arctic lagoon and nearshore food webs: Relative contributions of terrestrial organic matter, phytoplankton, and phytobenthos vary with consumer foraging dynamics

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Characterizing energy flow and trophic linkages is fundamental to understanding the functioning and resilience of Arctic ecosystems under increasing pressure from climate change and anthropogenic exploitation. We used carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes to examine trophic dynamics and the relative contribution of terrestrial organic matter, water column phytoplankton, and phytobenthos (benthic micro- and macro-autotrophs as well as sea ice algae) to the food webs supporting 45 macroconsumers in three Arctic coastal lagoon ecosystems (Krusenstern, Sisualik, Akulaaq) and the adjacent Kotzebue Sound with varying degrees of connectivity in Cape Krusenstern National Monument, Alaska. A two-source (water column particulate organic matter and benthic sediment organic matter), two-isotope trophic dynamics model informed by a Bayesian isotope mixing model revealed that the Lagoon-Kotzebue Sound coastal ecosystem supported consumers along a trophic position continuum from primary consumers, including amphipods, copepods, and clams to trophic level five predators, such as seastars, piscivorous fishes, seals, and seabirds. The relative contribution of the three primary producer end members, terrestrial organic matter (41 ± 21%), phytoplankton (25 ± 21%), and phytobenthos (34 ± 23%) varied as a function of: 1) consumer foraging ecology and 2) consumer location. Suspension feeders received most of their carbon from food webs based on phytoplankton (49 ± 11%) and terrestrial organic matter (23 ± 5%), whereas herbivores and detritivores received the majority of their carbon from phytobenthos-based food webs, 58 ± 10% and 60 ± 8%, respectively. Omnivores and predators showed more even distributions of resource reliance and greater overall variance among species. Within the invertebrates, the importance of terrestrial organic matter decreased and phytobenthos increased with increasing trophic position. The importance of terrestrial organic matter contribution increased with lagoon proximity to major rivers inputs and isolation from Kotzebue Sound. Several taxa with cultural and subsistence food importance to local communities showed significant reliance (30–90% of baseline carbon) on food chains linked to fresh terrestrial organic matter. Our study indicates that terrestrial-marine linkages are important to the function of Arctic coastal lagoon ecosystems and artisanal fisheries. These linkages are likely to strengthen in the future with regional changes in erosion and runoff associated with climate change and anthropogenic disturbance.

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Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science