Incorporation of diet information derived from Bayesian stable isotope mixing models into mass-balanced marine ecosystem models : a case study from the Marennes-Oléron Estuary, France Public Deposited

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  • This thesis presents two related studies on the methodology for creating, and subsequently analyzing, an inverse food web model of an intertidal seagrass bed. The first study (Chapter 2) describes, for the first time in the literature, a method for incorporating isotopic information gained from Bayesian mixing models into an inverse food web model. The second study (Chapter 3) analyzes the results of this food web model from an ecological perspective, which includes the first complete description of the carbon budget of an intertidal seagrass food web incorporating isotopic information. Linear inverse modeling (LIM) is a technique that estimates a complete network of flows in an under-determined system (e.g., a food web) using a combination of site-specific data and previously published data. This estimation of complete flow networks of food webs in marine ecosystems is becoming more recognized as a powerful tool for understanding ecosystem functioning. However, diets and consumption rates of organisms are often difficult or impossible to accurately and reliably measure in the field, resulting in a large amount of uncertainty in the magnitude of consumption flows and resource partitioning in food web models. In order to address this issue, Chapter 2 utilized stable isotope data to help aid in estimating these unknown flows. δ¹³C and δ¹⁵N isotope data of consumers and producers in the Marennes-Oleron seagrass system were used in Bayesian mixing models; the output of which were then used to constrain consumption flows in an inverse analysis food web model of the seagrass ecosystem. We hypothesized that incorporating the diet information gained from the stable isotope mixing models would result in a more constrained food web model. In order to test this, two inverse food web models were built to track the flow of carbon through the seagrass food web on an annual basis, with units of mg C m⁻² d⁻¹. The first model (Traditional LIM) included all available data, with the exception of the diet constraints formed from the stable isotope mixing models. The second model (Isotope LIM) was identical to the Traditional LIM, but included the SIAR diet constraints. Both models were identical in structure, and intended to model the same Marennes- Oleron intertidal seagrass bed. Each model consisted of 27 compartments (24 living, 3 detrital) and 175 flows. Comparisons between the outputs of the models showed the addition of the SIAR-derived isotopic diet constraints further constrained the solution range of all food web flows on average by 26%. Flows that were directly affected by an isotopic diet constraint were 45% further constrained on average. These results confirmed our hypothesis that incorporation of the isotope information would result in a more constrained food web model, and demonstrated the benefit of utilizing multi-tracer stable isotope information in ecosystem models. In Chapter 3, Ecological Network Analysis (ENA) was used to investigate the functional ecology of the system. The majority of seagrass food web studies thus far have relied on trophic marker analyses (i.e. stable isotopes, fatty acids) to investigate food sources and trophic positions, and as a result, few studies have examined seagrass beds from a perspective of whole-ecosystem functioning. By quantifying the Marennes- Oleron seagrass food web using linear inverse modeling coupled with results from isotopic mixing models, this study investigated the relative trophic importance of primary producers in the system, the trophic structure of the seagrass bed flora and fauna, the relative importance of allochthonous versus autochthonous carbon, and both the sequestration and export of organic carbon to the surrounding environment. Additionally, results of these analyses were compared with other coastal systems, including a neighboring bare mudflat located in the Marennes-Oleron estuary. Grazing rates indicated that microphytobenthos was directly consumed about 7 times more than Zostera, while a novel metric of total food web dependency derived from network analysis showed the consumer compartments relied upon microphytobenthos 22 time more than on Z. noltii via direct and indirect pathways. Meiofauna was found to provide an important link between primary production and detritus with upper trophic levels (i.e. fish). Autochthonous carbon was utilized over 4 times more than allochthonous carbon by the seagrass food web in total, and the system was shown to be a net carbon sink. Our analysis supported the concept that seagrass meadows have a high metabolic capacity and the ability to accumulate large sedimentary carbon pools (e.g., carbon sequestration), which are important climate-regulating ecosystem services. ENA revealed the Oleron seagrass bed to be a relatively mature, stable system internally, with strong connections via energy transport to and from surrounding environments. To the best of the authors' knowledge, this study was the first to fully characterize the carbon budget of an intertidal seagrass food web utilizing probabilistic methods.
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