Stable carbon and nitrogen isotopic evidence for ecotonal coupling between boreal forests and fishes


Robert L. France, Department of Biology, McGill University, 1205 Ave. Dr. Penfield, Montreal H3A 1B1, Canada


Abstract— As a result of water turbulence effects on boundary layer diffusion resistance and carbon isotopic discrimination, the δ13C values (ratios of 13C: 12C) of attached algae may often overlap those of terrestrial plants, thereby making it impossible to distinguish between the relative importance of these two potential food sources for aquatic animals. The present study used a dual isotope approach (δ13C and δ15N) to refine measurements of the incorporation of allochthonous organic matter into freshwater fishes. The dependence of five species of littoral fishes on terrestrial detritus for part of their energy sustenance was demonstrated. The littoral zones of boreal Canadian Shield lakes are, therefore, not isolated from their surrounding riparian forests in terms of carbon flow as present day timber management guidelines erroneously assume, but instead exhibit a measurable degree of ecotonal land-water coupling. As a result, clearcut logging of riparian forests to the lakeshore edge, permissible by law in most Canadian provinces containing boreal forests, may have to be reassessed as a forest harvesting strategy.