Multiple Stable Isotopes Used to Trace the Flow of Organic Matter in Estuarine Food Webs

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Science  15 Mar 1985:
Vol. 227, Issue 4692, pp. 1361-1363
DOI: 10.1126/science.227.4692.1361


The use of a combination of the stable isotopes of sulfur, carbon, and nitrogen allows the flow of organic matter and trophic relations in salt marshes and estuaries to be traced while eliminating many ambiguities that accompany the use of a single isotopic tracer. Salt-marsh grasses take up the isotopically light sulfides formed during sulfate reduction, and the transfer of this light sulfur through the marsh food web is illustrated with data on the ribbed mussel (Geukensia demissa) from various locations in a New England marsh. The multiple isotope approach shows that this filter feeder consumes both marsh grass ( Spartina) detritus and plankton, with the relative proportions of each determined by the location of the mussels in the marsh.