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Terrestrial detritus supports the food webs in lowland intermittent streams of south-eastern Australia : a stable isotope study

journal contribution
posted on 2008-05-27, 00:00 authored by D Reid, Gerry QuinnGerry Quinn, S Lake, P Reich
1. Large amounts of terrestrial detritus enter many low-order forested streams, and this organic
material is often the major basal resource in the metazoan food webs of such systems. However,
despite their apparently low biomass, algae are the dominant food of organisms in a number of
aquatic communities which conventionally would have been presumed to be dependent on
allochthonous detritus, particularly those in the tropics and also in lowland intermittent streams
in arid Australia.
2. The dual stable isotope signatures (d13C and d15N) of potential primary food sources were
compared with the isotopic signatures of common aquatic animals in lowland intermittent
streams in south-eastern Australia, in both spring and summer, to determine whether
allochthonous detritus was an important nutritional resource in these systems. The isotopic
signatures of the major potential allochthonous plant food sources (Eucalyptus, Phalaris and
Juncus) overlapped, but were distinct from algae and the dominant macrophytes growing in the
study reaches. The isotopic signatures of biofilm were more spatially and temporally variable
than those of the other basal resources.
3. Despite allochthonous detritus having relatively high C : N ratios compared to other
potential basal resources, results from ISOSOURCE mixing model calculations demonstrated
that this detritus, and the associated biofilm, were the major energy sources assimilated by
macroinvertebrate primary consumers in both spring and summer. The importance of these
energy sources was also reflected in animals higher in the food web, including predatory
macroinvertebrates and fish. These resources were supplemented by autochthonous sources of
higher nutritional value (i.e. filamentous algae and macrophytes, which had relatively low
C : N ratios) when they became more prolific as the streams dried to disconnected pools in
4. The results highlight the importance of allochthonous detritus (particularly from Eucalyptus)
as a dependable energy source for benthic macroinvertebrates and fish in lowland intermittent
streams of south-eastern Australia. This contrasts with previous stable isotope studies
conducted in lowland intermittent streams in arid Australia, which have reported that the fauna
are primarily dependent on autochthonous algae.



Freshwater biology






2036 - 2050


Wiley-Blackwell Publishing Ltd


Oxford, England







Publication classification

C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Copyright notice

2008 Blackwell Publishing Ltd