Terrestrial-aquatic trophic linkages support fish production in a tropical oligotrophic river.
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Despite low in situ primary productivity, tropical oligotrophic rivers support highly diverse fish assemblages and productive fisheries. This raises the question, what energy sources support fish production in these ecosystems? We sampled fish and food resources in the floodplain of a nearly pristine, large, oligotrophic river in western Amazonia. We combined data from stomach contents and stable isotopes to test the hypothesis that floodplain forests sustain fisheries in tropical oligotrophic rivers. Analysis of stomach contents from>800 specimens of 12 omnivorous fish species demonstrated that during the annual flood, forest plant matter dominated diets. Yet, our isotope mixing models estimated that arthropods from the forest canopy made a greater proportional contribution to fish biomass. Most of these arthropods are entirely terrestrial and, therefore, serve as trophic links between forests and fishes. Our results suggest that forest vegetation, particularly fruits, may provide much of the energy supporting metabolism and arthropods contribute significant amounts of protein for somatic growth. Moreover, the importance of terrestrial arthropods in support of fish biomass in oligotrophic rivers depends on interactions between riparian vegetation, terrestrial arthropods and flood pulse dynamics affecting accessibility of arthropods to fishes. The apparent paradox of high fish diversity in an oligotrophic river with low primary productivity may be explained, at least partially, by dynamic terrestrial-aquatic trophic linkages. This study further emphasizes the importance of seasonally flooded forests for sustaining fisheries in the Amazon.