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PCB Food Web Dynamics Quantify Nutrient and Energy Flow in Aquatic Ecosystems

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journal contribution
posted on 2015-11-03, 00:00 authored by Anne M. McLeod, Gordon Paterson, Ken G. Drouillard, G. Douglas Haffner
Measuring in situ nutrient and energy flows in spatially and temporally complex aquatic ecosystems represents a major ecological challenge. Food web structure, energy and nutrient budgets are difficult to measure, and it is becoming more important to quantify both energy and nutrient flow to determine how food web processes and structure are being modified by multiple stressors. We propose that polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) congeners represent an ideal tracer to quantify in situ energy and nutrient flow between trophic levels. Here, we demonstrate how an understanding of PCB congener bioaccumulation dynamics provides multiple direct measurements of energy and nutrient flow in aquatic food webs. To demonstrate this novel approach, we quantified nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and caloric turnover rates for Lake Huron lake trout, and reveal how these processes are regulated by both growth rate and fish life history. Although minimal nutrient recycling was observed in young growing fish, slow growing, older lake trout (>5 yr) recycled an average of 482 Tonnes·yr–1 of N, 45 Tonnes·yr–1 of P and assimilated 22 TJ yr–1 of energy. Compared to total P loading rates of 590 Tonnes·yr–1, the recycling of primarily bioavailable nutrients by fish plays an important role regulating the nutrient states of oligotrophic lakes.