Basin geochemistry and isotopic ratios of fishes and basal production sources in four neotropical rivers Academic Article uri icon


  • We analysed stable carbon and nitrogen isotopic ratios of dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC), plants, detritus and fishes to estimate the relative importance of dominant production sources supporting food webs of four Venezuelan rivers with divergent geochemical and watershed characteristics. Based on samples taken during the dry season at each site, fishes from two nutrient-poor, blackwater rivers had significantly lower 13C values (mean = -31.4 and -32.9) than fishes from more productive clearwater and whitewater rivers (mean = -25.2 and -25.6 respectively). Low carbon isotopic ratios of fishes from blackwaters were likely influenced by low 13C of DIC assimilated by aquatic primary producers. Although floodplains of three savanna rivers supported high biomass of C4 grasses, relatively little carbon from this source appeared to be assimilated by fishes. Most fishes in each system assimilated carbon derived mostly from a combination of microalgae and C3 macrophytes, two sources with broadly overlapping carbon isotopic signatures. Even with this broad overlap, several benthivorous grazers from blackwater and whitewater rivers had isotopic values that aligned more closely with algae. We conclude that comparative stable isotopic studies of river biota need to account for watershed geochemistry that influences the isotopic composition of basal production sources. Moreover, isotopic differences between river basins can provide a basis for discriminating spatial and temporal variation in the trophic ecology of fishes that migrate between watersheds having distinct geochemical characteristics. 2007 The Authors Journal compilation 2007 Blackwell Munksgaard.

published proceedings

  • Ecology Of Freshwater Fish

author list (cited authors)

  • Jepsen, D. B., & Winemiller, K. O.

citation count

  • 49

complete list of authors

  • Jepsen, David B||Winemiller, Kirk O

publication date

  • March 2007