Food web of a confined and anthropogenically affected coastal basin (the Mar Piccolo of Taranto) revealed by carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes analyses

Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2016 Jul;23(13):12725-38. doi: 10.1007/s11356-015-5380-z. Epub 2015 Sep 18.


Carbon and nitrogen stable isotope analysis was used to examine the food web of the Mar Piccolo of Taranto, a coastal basin experiencing several anthropogenic impacts. Main food sources (algal detritus, seaweeds, particulate organic matter (POM) and sediment organic matter (SOM)) and benthic and pelagic consumers were collected during two contrasting seasons (June and April), at four sites distributed over two inlets, and characterized by different level of confinements, anthropogenic inputs and the presence of mussels farming. δ(13)C values of organic sources revealed an important contribution of POM to both planktonic and benthic pathways, as well as the influence of terrigenous inputs within both inlets, probably due to high seasonal land runoff. Although δ(13)C of both sources and consumers varied little between sampling sites and dates, δ(15)N spatial variability was higher and clearly reflected the organic enrichment in the second inlet as well as the uptake of anthropogenically derived material by benthic consumers. On the other hand, within the first inlet, the isotopic composition of consumers did not change in response to chemical contamination. However, the impact of polluted sediments near the Navy Arsenal in the first inlet was detectable at the level of the macrobenthic trophic structure, showing high dominance of motile, upper level consumers capable to face transient conditions and the reduction of the more resident deposit feeders. We therefore underline the great potential of matching stable isotope analysis with quantitative studies of community structure to assess the effects of multiple anthropogenic stressors.

Keywords: Anthropogenic pressures; Feeding guilds; Food webs; Macrofauna; Stable isotopes; Zooplankton.

MeSH terms

  • Aquatic Organisms / physiology*
  • Carbon Isotopes / analysis
  • Food Chain*
  • Italy
  • Nitrogen Isotopes / analysis
  • Seasons


  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Nitrogen Isotopes