Elucidating trophic pathways of the most abundant fish larvae in Northern Patagonia using δ13C and δ15N isotopes

Bernal, Ainhoa; Castro, Leonardo R.; Costalago, David

Keywords: southern chile, stable isotopes, fjords, Estuarine Systems, Carbon sources, ichthyoplankto, Sea of Chiloé


The alternation of the classic and microbial food-webs in spring and winter respectively, and the trespass towards higher trophic-levels represented by fish early stages, are not well understood in Patagonia. These trophic routes were investigated in the inner Sea of Chiloe, an estuary of high ecological relevance in northern Patagonia. The isotopic values of δ13C and δ15N of ichthyoplankton and particulate organic matter were analyzed in late winter and spring 2017 to evaluate whether seasonal changes (e.g. in the composition of the freshwater discharge) were reflected in the isotopic signals of fish larvae. For this purpose, larvae of dominant fish species with contrasting feeding strategies were collected up to 100 m depth. The inshore zone of northern Patagonia was characterized by a dominance of marine carbon production, with increasing input of terrestrial organic matter during winter. δ13C values < -25 ‰ at the outermost estuary stations indicated the influence of allochthonous carbon exported from the inshore area in spring. The δ13C˗larval signature of the species of the lightfish Maurolicus parvipinnis, the pipefish Leptonotus blainvilleanus, and the rockfish Sebastes oculatus followed the isotopic signature of the particulate organic matter in both seasons, at inshore and the exchange (outer) zone. Food partitioning was detected between species, with Merluccius spp. at the highest trophic position and L. blainvilleanus at the lowest. The fish larval community reached more diverse and higher δ15N values in winter, when larvae likely fed on prey items of higher trophic level, or instead when the food-web was partly sustained by microbial sources. Our results showed seasonal variations in δ13C values, suggesting differences in the source of organic carbon incorporated by the studied fish larvae. Moreover, trophic plasticity at larval stages may be an important characteristic of this type of estuary environments.

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Editorial: Marine Ecology Progress Series
Financiamiento/Sponsor: FONDECYT grants 3170420 and 1161131; and the 21 research center COPAS Sur Austral [CONICYT PIA AFB170006]