We review the use of stable carbon isotope ratios (δ13C) and radiocarbon natural abundances (Δ14C) for stream food web studies. The δ13C value of primary producers (e.g., periphytic algae, hereafter periphyton) in streams is controlled by isotopic fractionation during photosynthesis and variable δ13C of dissolved CO2. When periphyton δ13C differs from that of terrestrial primary producers, the relative contribution of autochthony and allochthony to stream food webs can be calculated. Moreover, the variation in periphyton δ13C can reveal how much stream consumers rely on local resources because each stream habitat (e.g., riffle vs. pool, open vs. shaded) usually has a distinctive δ13C. However, periphyton δ13C often overlaps with that of terrestrial organic matter. On the other hand, periphyton Δ14C is less variable than δ13C among habitats, and reflects the Δ14C of dissolved CO2, which could be a mixture of "aged" (Δ14C < 0 ‰) and "modern" (Δ14C > 0 ‰) carbon. This is because the Δ14C is corrected by its δ13C value for the isotopic fractionation during photosynthesis. Recent studies and our data indicate that many stream food webs are supported by "aged" carbon derived from the watershed via autochthonous production. The combined use of δ13C and Δ14C allows robust estimation of the carbon transfer pathway in a stream food web at multiple spatial scales ranging from the stream habitat level (e.g., riffle and pool) to watershed level (autochthony and allochthony). Furthermore, the Δ14C of stream food webs will expand our understanding about the time frame of carbon cycles in the watersheds.
- Aquatic consumer
- Carbon stable isotope
- Terrestrial litter
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics