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Keywords:

  • carbon stable isotopes;
  • epilithic biofilm;
  • macroinvertebrates;
  • river continuum;
  • trophic base

Summary 1. To understand longitudinal changes in the trophic base of benthic macroinvertebrates from mountain to lowland river sections, we investigated carbon stable isotopic compositions (δ13C) of macroinvertebrates and their food resources in riffles for four seasons at 14 sites along the main stem of the Toyo River, Japan.

2. At each site, δ13C was usually highest or nearly highest for periphyton (epilithic biofilm) and was lowest for transported leaf materials. Among macroinvertebrate groups, grazers usually had higher δ13C values than filterers or predators.

3. During all seasons, δ13C of periphyton and all macroinvertebrate groups increased downstream from mountain to upland sections, but decreased downstream from upland to lowland sections. In addition, the difference between grazer δ13C and filterer δ13C decreased from mountain to upland sections, but increased from upland to lowland sections.

4. The observed changes in δ13C of periphyton and macroinvertebrates from mountain to upland sections agree with previous reports: the δ13C of periphyton and consumers increased with stream size and productivity. The decrease in δ13C of periphyton and macroinvertebrates from upland to lowland sections has not been reported previously, and this may have resulted from an increased importance of terrestrial detritus relative to periphyton production in the lowland section, where riffles were infrequent and pools dominated the reach.

5. A simple mixing model of δ13C showed that grazers rely mostly on periphyton at all sites, whereas the importance of periphyton for filterers changed longitudinally increasing from mountain to upland sections and decreasing from upland to lowland sections. This longitudinal trend for filterers is possibly associated with the changes in the availability or quality of terrestrial detritus in transported particulate organic matter.

6. Longitudinal changes in the relative importance of autochthonous production and allochthonous detritus appear to be reflected in δ13C of riffle benthic communities. The longitudinal changes were not monotonic, and specific reach characteristics may be responsible for the greater importance of allochthonous detritus in mountain and lowland sections.