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Stable isotope analysis indicates microalgae as the predominant food source of fauna in a coastal forest stream, south-east Brazil



Abstract:  Stable isotope studies of food webs in floodplains, large rivers, mangroves, and seagrasses have shown that, although a large proportion of the biomass may come from higher plants, microalgae provide a disproportionate amount of carbon assimilated by metazoan consumers. Evidence is building that this may also be the case for streams, especially those in the tropics. At the level of individual consumer species we also see that the apparent diet may not be reflected in the carbon assimilated. Tropical streams commonly have omnivore-detritivore species that potentially show this phenomenon. We tested these concepts in four moderately shaded sites in a stream in well-preserved Atlantic rainforest at Ilha Grande, Rio de Janeiro. We sampled aquatic insects, shrimps and fish as well as potential terrestrial and aquatic primary food sources. Carbon stocks from terrestrial sources predominated over carbon of algal origin (>99% of total). The primary sources of carbon showed distinctly different isotopic signatures: terrestrial sources had δ13C values close to −30‰, microalgae were −20‰ and macroalgae were −25‰. All fauna had δ13C values consistent with a carbon source derived from microalgae. Baetid mayflies and atyid shrimps exert a strong grazing pressure on periphyton and organic sediments but appear to assimilate predominantly microalgae. The palaemonid shrimp Macrobrachium olfersi also ingests large amounts of detritus of terrestrial origin, but apparently assimilates animal prey with algal δ13C signatures. These results support the growing view that tropical stream food chains are primarily algal based.