Trophic dynamics of copepods in the Strait of Georgia




El-Sabaawi, Rana

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Although food quality is thought to play an important role in the survival of marine copepods, the extent of natural variability in food quality remains poorly characterized. Here I characterize the different scales at which food quality varies in copepods of the Strait of Georgia, British Columbia, Canada. Significant interannual variability occurs in the diet of Neocalanus plumchrus in the Strait of Georgia. Between 2001-06 the fatty acid profiles of N. plumchrus switched from omnivorous, oceanic signatures to herbivorous, diatom-dominated signatures. An index of food quality (DHA/EPA) is strongly correlated to the abundance of diapausing N. plumchrus, suggesting that the relative proportion of essential fatty acids provided by dinoflagellates and diatoms are related to the survival of this species. Combined fatty acid and stable isotope analysis indicated that the spring calanoid copepods of the Strait of Georgia occupy three trophic positions: Eucalanus bungii is herbivorous, Calanus marshallae and N. plumchrus are omnivorous, while Euchaeta elongata is carnivorous. Oceanic conspecifics of Strait of Georgia copepods experience a more omnivorous diet, as indicated by the presence of higher proportions of flagellate and carnivory markers, and lower proportions of diatom-based markers in their fatty acids. Despite spatial differences in the quality of their diets, the relative trophic positions of these copepods are constant as indicated by their stable isotope signatures. There is a correlation between the trophic information provided by stable isotopes and fatty acids. However, stable isotopes are not sensitive enough to capture the range of dietary variability observed in fatty acids, and fatty acids do not always provide reliable markers of carnivory and trophic position. Over the span of a season, copepods can utilize a wide range of dietary items including diatoms, flagellates, bacteria, detritus and microzooplankton. Copepods can switch from herbivory to carnivory in response to declining chlorophyll concentrations after the spring bloom, and are occasionally able to utilize detrital and bacterial sources. I conclude that the quality of copepod diets in the SoG varies on interannual, interspecific and seasonal scales. The implications of these findings are discussed in relation to ecosystem models of the area, and to copepod physiology.



copepod, trophodynamics, Strait of Georgia, fatty acids, stable isotopes, neocalanus