Articles | Volume 11, issue 8
Reviews and syntheses
28 Apr 2014
Reviews and syntheses |  | 28 Apr 2014

Stable isotopes dissect aquatic food webs from the top to the bottom

J. J. Middelburg

Abstract. Stable isotopes have been used extensively to study food-web functioning, that is, the flow of energy and matter among organisms. Traditional food-web studies are based on the natural variability of isotopes and are limited to larger organisms that can be physically separated from their environment. Recent developments allow isotope ratio measurements of microbes and this in turn allows the measurement of entire food webs, in other words, from small producers at the bottom to large consumers at the top. Here, I provide a concise review on the use and potential of stable isotopes to reconstruct end-to-end food webs. I will first discuss food web reconstruction based on natural abundances isotope data and will then show that the use of stable isotopes as deliberately added tracers provides complementary information. Finally, challenges and opportunities for end-to-end food web reconstructions in a changing world are discussed.

Final-revised paper