Using biochemical and isotopic tracers to characterise organic matter sources and their incorporation into estuarine food webs (Rufiji delta, Tanzania)
Fatty acid biomarkers and stable isotope signatures were used to identify the sources of particulate and sedimentary organic matter and its input into the food web through the dominant consumer within the mangrove-dominated Rufiji estuary, Tanzania. Specific fatty acids were used to identify the preferred basal sources of dominant fauna (i.e. filter feeder bivalves, snails, crabs, shrimps, and three fish species), and their presence in the water and sediment samples in the estuary. Both fatty acid and stable isotope results revealed that food web in the Rufiji estuary depended on a variety of carbon sources (mangroves, allochthonous terrestrial inputs, macroalgae, and phytoplankton), contributing to a different degree into the diets of primary consumers and members of near-shore fish, but none of them were obligatory for the survival of these species. The δ15N values of major primary producers and consumers/predators revealed a trend for δ15N enrichment with increasing trophic level. The ratio of docosahexaenoic acid to eicosapentaenoic acid (DHA:EPA) decreased from pelagic to benthic feeding fish. This indicated that fish with different feeding modes derived their fatty acids from different primary sources of nutrition, and suggested that the DHA:EPA ratio may be a useful indicator of feeding mode.