Estuary hydrogeomorphology affects carbon sources supporting aquatic consumers within and among ecological guilds
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The relative importance of carbon sources supporting aquatic food webs within and among estuaries may be influenced by factors that affect relative availability of autotrophic carbon sources, as well as movement of individuals among marine, estuarine and freshwater zones. We used stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen to examine (1) the relative importance of carbon sources supporting estuarine consumers among estuaries with different hydrogeomorphic characteristics, (2) stable isotope signatures of consumer ecological guilds defined by dependence on estuarine habitats and residence time, and (3) if patterns in stable isotope signatures of ecological guilds repeat across estuaries with distinct hydrogeomorphological features. At the assemblage level, consumer carbon isotope signatures reflected the consumption of locally abundant primary production sources and differed across estuary types (choked lagoon, coastal river). Consumer ecological guilds differed in 13C within sites, and the same trend repeated across sites but with differing magnitudes. This variation is attributed to movement and residence patterns in addition to differences in the relative abundances of autotrophic sources across sites. Although within-estuary variation in consumer resource use is to be expected, estuarine food webs may be broadly classified according to landscape-scale hydrogeomorphic factors that allow an initial prediction of the relative importance of carbon sources to secondary production. Predictions may be refined at the species level using knowledge of habitat use and residence time. Such predictions are useful as a starting point for poorly studied regions such as ours in southern Brazil, as well as for global-scale analyses of patterns in estuarine food webs. 2011 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.