Food source diversity, trophic plasticity, and omnivory enhance the stability of a shallow benthic food web from a high-Arctic fjord exposed to freshwater inputs
New publication by Guillaume Bridier, Frédéric Olivier, Laurent Chauvaud, Mikael K. Sejr, Jacques Grall
Under climate change, many Arctic coastal ecosystems receive increasing amounts of freshwater, with ecological consequences that remain poorly understood. In this study, we investigated how freshwater inputs may affect the small‐scale structure of benthic food webs in a low‐production high‐Arctic fjord (Young Sound, NE Greenland). We seasonally sampled benthic invertebrates from two stations receiving contrasting freshwater inputs: an inner station exposed to turbid and nutrient‐depleted freshwater flows and an outer station exposed to lower terrestrial influences. Benthic food web structure was described using a stable isotope approach (δ13C and δ15N), Bayesian models, and community‐wide metrics. The results revealed the spatially and temporally homogeneous structure of the benthic food web, characterized by high trophic diversity (i.e., a wide community isotopic niche). Such temporal stability and spatial homogeneity mirrors the high degree of trophic plasticity and omnivory of benthic consumers that allows the maintenance of several carbon pathways through the food web despite different food availability. Furthermore, potential large inputs of shelf organic matter together with local benthic primary production (i.e., macroalgae and presumably microphytobenthos) may considerably increase the stability of the benthic food web by providing alternative food sources to locally runoff‐impacted pelagic primary production. Future studies should assess beyond which threshold limit a larger increase in freshwater inputs might cancel out these stability factors and lead to marked changes in Arctic benthic ecosystems.