Stable isotopes in juvenile marine fishes and their invertebrate prey from the Thames Estuary, UK, and adjacent coastal regions

Chris D. B. Leakey, Martin J. Attrill, Simon Jennings, Mark F. Fitzsimons

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Estuaries are regarded as valuable nursery habitats for many commercially important marine fishes, potentially providing a thermal resource, refuge from predators and a source of abundant prey. Stable isotope analysis may be used to assess relative resource use from isotopically distinct sources. This study comprised two major components: (1) development of a spatial map and discriminant function model of stable isotope variation in selected invertebrate groups inhabiting the Thames Estuary and adjacent coastal regions; and (2) analysis of stable isotope signatures of juvenile bass (Dicentrarchus labrax), sole (Solea solea) and whiting (Merlangius merlangus) for assessment of resource use and feeding strategies. The data were also used to consider anthropogenic enrichment of the estuary and potential energetic benefits of feeding in estuarine nursery habitat. Analysis of carbon (d13C), nitrogen (d15N) and sulphur (d34S) isotope data identified significant differences in the 'baseline' isotopic signatures between estuarine and coastal invertebrates, and discriminant function analysis allowed samples to be re-classified to estuarine and coastal regions with 98.8% accuracy. Using invertebrate signatures as source indicators, stable isotope data classified juvenile fishes to the region in which they fed. Feeding signals appear to reflect physiological (freshwater tolerance) and functional (mobility) differences between species. Juvenile sole were found to exist as two isotopically-discrete sub-populations, with no evidence of mixing between the two. An apparent energetic benefit of estuarine feeding was only found for sole.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)513-522
Number of pages10
JournalEstuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2008

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