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An assessment, using stable isotopes, of the importance of allochthonous organic carbon sources to the pelagic food web in Loch Ness

R.I. Jones, J. Grey, D. Sleep, C. Quarmby


The natural abundance of stable isotopes (δ13C and δ15N) was determined for components of the pelagic food web in Loch Ness, a deep oligotrophic lake in northern Scotland, and compared with values from the inflow rivers and the catchment vegetation. Phytoplankton δ13C was low compared to values reported from other lakes, possibly reflecting a high use of 13C–depleted carbon dioxide from respired organic matter before further isotopic fractionation during photosynthesis. Phytoplankton δ13C was appreciably lower than that of dissolved and particulate organic matter (DOM and POM) in the loch. The DOM and POM were evidently overwhelmingly of allochthonous origin and ultimately derived from terrestrial plant detritus. The distinctive δ13C values for phytoplankton and detritus in the loch allowed the use of food sources by grazing crustacean zooplankton to be assessed, and the contributions of phytoplankton carbon and detrital carbon to zooplankton total body carbon appeared to be about equal. Comparison of δ13C and δ15N values for zooplankton and fish allowed assessment of trophic structure in the loch. The very high dependence of the pelagic food web in Loch Ness on allochthonous organic matter inputs from the catchment may be exceptional in a large lake, but has important implications for our understanding of lake ecosystem processes as well as for lake management.

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