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Intraspecific variation and energy channel coupling within a Chilean kelp forest

Cite this dataset

Elliott Smith, Emma et al. (2021). Intraspecific variation and energy channel coupling within a Chilean kelp forest [Dataset]. Dryad.


The widespread importance of variable types of primary production, or energy channels, to consumer communities has become increasingly apparent. However, the mechanisms underlying this ‘multichannel’ feeding remain poorly understood, especially for aquatic ecosystems that pose unique logistical constraints given the diversity of potential energy channels. Here, we use bulk tissue isotopic analysis along with carbon isotope (δ13C) analysis of individual amino acids to characterize the relative contribution of pelagic and benthic energy sources to a kelp forest consumer community in northern Chile. We measured bulk tissue δ13C and δ15N for >120 samples; of these we analyzed δ13Cvalues of six essential amino acids (EAA) from nine primary producer groups (n=41) and eleven representative nearshore consumer taxa (n=56). Using EAA δ13C data, we employed linear discriminant analysis (LDA) to assess how distinct EAA δ13C values were between local pelagic (phytoplankton/particulate organic matter), and benthic (kelps, red and green algae) endmembers. With this model, we were able to correctly classify nearly 90% of producer samples to their original groupings, a significant improvement on traditional bulk isotopic analysis. With this EAA isotopic library, we then generated probability distributions for the most important sources of production for each individual consumer and species using a bootstrap-resampling LDA approach. We found evidence for multichannel feeding within the community at the species level. Invertebrates tended to focus on either pelagic or benthic energy, deriving 13–67% of their EAA from pelagic sources. In contrast, mobile (fish) taxa at higher trophic levels used more equal proportions of each channel, ranging from 19–47% pelagically-derived energy. Within a taxon, multichannel feeding was a result of specialization among individuals in energy channel usage, with 37 of 56 individual consumers estimated to derive >80% of their EAA from a single channel. Our study reveals how a cutting-edge isotopic technique can characterize the dynamics of energy flow in coastal food webs, a topic which has been historically difficult to address. More broadly, our work provides a mechanism as to how multichannel feeding may occur in nearshore communities, and we suggest this pattern be investigated in additional ecosystems.


See manuscript methods and publicly available metadata. 


Agencia Nacional de Investigación y Desarrollo, Award: 1151515

Agencia Nacional de Investigación y Desarrollo, Award: 1191452