Trophic relationships among Southern Ocean copepods and krill: some uses and limitations of a stable isotope approach

The use of stable isotopes to study food webs has increased rapidly, but there are still some uncertainties in their application. We examined the delta(15)N and delta(13)C values of Antarctic euphausiids and copepods from the Polar Front, Lazarev Sea, and Marguerite Bay against their foodweb baseline of particulate organic matter (POM). Interpretations of trophic level were helped by comparison with other approaches and by calibration experiments with Euphausia superba fed known diets: Results for well-known mesozooplankters (e.g., Calanoides acutus and Metridia gerlachei) were internally consistent and corresponded to those derived from independent methods. This gave confidence in the isotope approach for copepods and probably larval euphausiids. Among the dominant yet poorly known species, it suggested mainly herbivory for Rhincalanus gigas but omnivory for Calanus simillimus and furcilia larvae of Thysanoessa spp. and Euphausia frigida. The delta(15)N values of adult copepods were up to 3parts per thousand higher than those of early copepodites, pointing to ontogenetic shifts in diet. In the Lazarev Sea in autumn, the isotopic signals of E. superba larvae suggested pelagic, mainly herbivorous, feeding rather than feeding within the ice. In contrast to the mesozooplankton, some anomalous results for postlarval krill species indicated problems with this method for micronekton. The experiments showed that postlarval E. superba did not equilibriate with a new diet within 30 d. We suggest that the slower turnover of these larger species, partly in combination with their ability to migrate, has confounded trophic effects with those of a temporally/spatially changing food-web baseline. Interpretations of food sources of micronekton could be helped by analyzing their molts or fecal pellets, which responded faster to a new diet.


Publication status:
Authors: Schmidt, K., Atkinson, A., Stubing, D., McClelland, J.W., Montoya, J.P., Voss, M.

1 January, 2003
Limnology and Oceanography / 48