Establishing a food web model for coastal Antarctic benthic communities: a case study from the Vestfold Hills

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Gillies, CL, Stark, JS, Johnstone, GJ & Smith, SDA 2013, 'Establishing a food web model for coastal Antarctic benthic communities: a case study from the Vestfold Hills', Marine Ecology Progress Series, vol. 478, pp. 27-41.

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Shallow-water benthic communities throughout coastal Antarctica share many species and are governed by similar physico-oceanographic processes. This suggests community structure and function may be similar among communities despite being geographically separated by up to 15 degrees of latitude and 18000 km of coastline. To test this theory, we developed a food web model using stable isotopes (δ13C, δ15N) for the high-latitude Vestfold Hills shallow-water benthic community and compared it to the isotopic food web model developed for the Windmill Islands, located over 1000 km away. For the Vestfold Hills food web, carbon sources were generally well separated by δ13C, and lower-order consumers could be grouped according to their feeding guild and main dietary sources as determined by δ13C and δ15N. Higher-order consumers occupied the full range of δ13C ratios and had similar δ15N values, although predators were weakly, but significantly, enriched in δ15N compared to scavenger/predators and omnivores. When comparing with the Windmill Islands food web, we found similar δ13C ratios for several co-occurring carbon sources and consumers, whilst the δ15N ratios in consumers from the Vestfold Hills were consistently enriched compared to those from the Windmill Islands by 1 to 2‰. The relative positions of feeding guilds on the δ13C and δ15N planes were similar for both food webs. These results suggest there is considerable merit in developing a representative food web model for Antarctic shallow-water communities. Such a model would provide a trophic benchmark against which modification in these communities brought about by climate change or other human impacts could be compared.