Oikos, February 2010, Vol.119(2), pp.409-416
Although some primary consumers such as chironomid larvae are known to exploit methane‐derived carbon via microbial consortia within aquatic food webs, few studies have traced the onward transfer of such carbon to their predators. The ruffe is a widespread benthivorous fish which feeds predominantly on chironomid larvae and is well adapted for foraging at lower depths than other percids. Therefore, any transfer of methanogenic carbon to higher trophic levels might be particularly evident in ruffe. We sampled ruffe and chironomid larvae from the littoral, sub‐littoral and profundal areas of Jyväsjärvi, Finland, a lake which has previously been shown to contain chironomid larvae exhibiting the very low stable carbon isotope ratios indicative of methane exploitation. A combination of fish gut content examination and stable isotope analysis was used to determine trophic linkages between fish and their putative prey. Irrespective of the depth from which the ruffe were caught, their diet was dominated by chironomids and pupae although the proportions of taxa changed. Zooplankton made a negligible contribution to ruffe diet. A progressive decrease in δC and δN values with increasing water column depth was observed for both chironomid larvae and ruffe, but not for other species of benthivorous fish. Furthermore, ruffe feeding at greater depths were significantly larger than those feeding in the littoral, suggesting an ontogenetic shift in habitat use, rather than diet, as chironomids remained the predominant prey item. The outputs from isotope mixing models suggested that the incorporation of methane‐derived carbon to larval chironomid biomass through feeding on methanotrophic bacteria increased at greater depth, varying from 0% in the littoral to 28% in the profundal. Using these outputs and the proportions of littoral, sub‐littoral or profundal chironomids contributing to ruffe biomass, we estimated that 17% of ruffe biomass in this lake was ultimately derived from chemoautotrophic sources. Methanogenic carbon thus supports considerable production of higher trophic levels in lakes.
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