• Tracking carbon sources through an Arctic marine food web: insights from fatty acids and their carbon stable isotopes

      Wang, Shiway; 王小葳; Wooller, Matthew; Budge, Suzanne; Horstmann-Dehn, Lara; Iken, Katrin; Springer, Alan (2014-08)
      Marine production across the Bering-Chukchi continental shelf is influenced by seasonal sea ice dynamics and climatic conditions. Of particular importance is variability in the magnitude and timing of annual phytoplankton production in the water column and in sea ice, and effects of such variability on food web composition and productivity. Of primary concern is the long-term effect of the projected loss of Arctic sea ice on ecosystem productivity and stability, and the fate of upper trophic level species. I examined a portion of the Bering-Chukchi Sea food web by analyzing the fatty acid composition and stable carbon isotope ratios of individual fatty acids in particulate organic matter from sea ice and the water column. These techniques were used to make inferences about diets of three species of zooplankton (Themisto libellula, Calanus marshallae/glacialis, Thysanoessa raschii) sampled during a recent climatically cold, relatively heavy sea ice period in the Bering Sea. I also analyzed fatty acids of four species of ice-associated seals--ringed (Pusa/Phoca hispida), bearded (Erignathus barbatus), spotted (Phoca largha), and ribbon seals (Histriophoca fasciata)--sampled during the same relatively cold period (2007-2010) as well as a preceding warm (2002-2005), relatively low sea ice period in the Bering Sea. Particulate organic matter from sea ice and the water column had different fatty acid characteristics, most likely stemming from differences in algal composition. My results also showed that in the Bering Sea cold period, the amphipod T. libellula was predominately carnivorous, and the copepod C. marshallae/glacialis and euphausiid T. raschii were primarily herbivorous, but displayed some degree of omnivory. Across all years (2002-2010), fatty acid composition of ice seals showed clear evidence of resource partitioning among them, and little niche separation between spotted and ribbon seals, which is consistent with previous studies. The fatty acid composition of primarily pelagic feeding adult ringed seals and predominantly benthic feeding adult bearded seals did not differ between the recent warm (2002-2005) and cold (2007-2010) periods in the Bering Sea, suggesting that their diets and possibly food web structures were not affected by these large multiyear environmental fluctuations. Notably however, the stable carbon isotope ratios of individual fatty acids of bearded seals from the Bering Sea cold period were higher than those from the warm period, which suggests that their prey base in the Bering Sea was receiving more input from particulate organic matter from sea ice than the water column during those years. By using the stable carbon isotope ratios of individual fatty acids of particulate organic matter from sea ice and the water column in a series of stable isotope mixing models, I estimated the proportional contribution of fatty acids from sea ice particulate organic matter in T. libellula, C. marshallae/glacialis, and T. raschii collected in 2009 and 2010 as 36-72%, 27-63%, and 39-71%, respectively. Using a similar set of mixing models, I estimated that adult bearded seals had the highest level of fatty acids from sea ice particulate organic matter (62-80%), followed by spotted seals (51-62%), and then ringed seals (21-60%) in 2009 and 2010. Although estimates could not be made for ribbon seals due to lack of samples in 2009 and 2010, their stable carbon isotope ratios of individual fatty acids from 2003 were very similar to those of spotted seals suggesting that the proportional contribution of fatty acids from sea ice particulate organic matter to ribbons seals was similar to that of spotted seals. Assuming that seals sourced their sympagic fatty acids from the Bering Sea, these results suggest that sympagic production is currently an important contributor to food webs supporting both benthic and pelagic upper trophic level species in years with heavy ice cover in the Bering Sea. Thus, the question is raised--with the projected continuing loss of seasonal sea ice in the Arctic, will organic matter input from sympagic production also decline, and will it be compensated for by pelagic production to balance both pelagic and benthic carbon and energy budgets?