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Can export of organic matter from estuaries support zooplankton in nearshore, marine plumes?

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-16, 22:56 authored by Schlacher, TA, Connolly, RM, Skillington, AJ, Gaston, TF
Marine and terrestrial ecosystems are connected via transfers of nutrients and organic matter in river discharges. In coastal seas, such freshwater outflows create prominent turbidity plumes. These plumes are areas of high biological activity in the pelagos, of which zooplankton is a key element. Conceptually, the increased biomass of zooplankton consumers in plumes can be supported by two alternative trophic pathways-consumption of fresh marine phytoplankton production stimulated by riverine nutrients, or direct trophic subsidies through the uptake of terrestrial and estuarine organic matter flushed to sea. The relative importance of these two pathways has not been established previously. Isotopic tracing (carbon and nitrogen) was used to measure the extent of incorporation of marine versus terrestrial matter into mesozooplankton consumers in the plumes off a small estuary in eastern Australia. Replicate zooplankton samples were taken during baseflow conditions with minimal freshwater influence to the sea, and during pulsed discharge events that generated turbidity plumes in coastal waters. Food sources utilized by zooplankton differed among locations and with the strength of freshwater flow. Terrestrial and estuarine carbon only made a sizeable contribution (47%) to the carbon demands of zooplankton in the lower estuary during pulsed freshwater flows. By contrast, in plumes that developed in nearshore marine waters, phytoplankton supplied up to 90% of the dietary carbon of zooplankton feeding in the plumes. Overall, it was "fresh" carbon, fixed by marine phytoplankton, the growth of which became stimulated by fluvial nutrient exports, that dominated energy flows in plume regions. The trophic role of terrestrial and estuarine organic exports was comparatively minor. The trophic dynamics of plankton in small coastal plumes is closely linked to variations in freshwater flow, but this coupling operates mainly through the enhancement of in-situ phytoplankton production rather than cross-boundary transfers of organic matter to marine food webs in the pelagos. © 2008 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.


Publication title

Aquatic Ecology








Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies



Place of publication

Dordrecht, Netherlands

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Assessment and management of terrestrial ecosystems

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    University Of Tasmania