Stable isotope ratios indicate differential omnivory among syntopic rocky shore suspension-feeders

Nicole B. Richoux, Ilke Vermeulen, P. William Froneman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


We utilised stable isotope ratios to assess differences in diet among three indigenous and syntopic rocky shore suspension-feeders (mussels Perna perna, barnacles Tetraclita serrata, and polychaetes Gunnarea gaimardi). We also determined the spatial and temporal variability in the suspension-feeder diets by collecting specimens on two occasions from two regions adjacent to hydrologically distinct river mouths (i.e. one with larger annual freshwater throughput than the other). The results showed that the isotopic niches (used as proxies for trophic niches) of the three species did not overlap and that the barnacles occupied a trophic position (3.4) well above those of the mussels (2) and polychaetes (2.6). We ascribed the interspecific differences primarily to the disparate feeding mechanisms used by the species. Large-scale regional (~50 km) differences in suspension-feeder diets were apparent, but not small-scale (up to a few km north and south of each estuary mouth). The regional differences in diet resulted from the increased availability of estuarine-origin suspended particulate matter (SPM) and zooplankton in the region adjacent to the river with relatively larger freshwater output, although overall incorporation of zooplankton versus mixed SPM into consumer diets was relatively consistent between regions and through time. Temporal shifts in suspension-feeder diets were apparent from stable carbon isotope ratios in the consumers. Our results showcase the measurable effects of regional-scale processes that can alter the food sources for dominant primary consumers in the rocky intertidal, thus potentially affecting entire food webs through bottom-up processes. The clear evidence for trophic niche partitioning offers valuable insights into how potentially strong competitors can coexist.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)971-984
Number of pages14
JournalMarine Biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2014
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology


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