The Dynamics of Carbon and Nitrogen Stable Isotope Analysis of Aquatic Organisms within the Grand River Watershed
Loomer, Heather Anne
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Stable isotope analysis is a tool employed in ecological studies to provide information on the movement of elements and energy through a system. The stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis of aquatic organisms has been commonly used to address questions related to energy transfer between organisms and to identify the reliance of aquatic organisms on different sources of organic matter within the system. Within the rivers, stable isotope analysis has been used to describe food webs and connect conditions within the watershed with the river. The Grand River watershed is a predominantly agricultural watershed which receives inputs from ~26 MWWTP and is managed for flow by multiple large reservoirs and weirs. The stable isotope values of aquatic organisms within this watershed were analyzed from samples collected between May and September, 2007. Sites were selected in relation to three different municipal waste water treatment plants (MWWTP) in the centre of the watershed and along a 200 km stretch of the main stem of the Grand River. Results show that stable isotope analysis can be used to differentiate organisms collected from different sites and which represent different trophic levels within the river system under select conditions. Sites which are influences by inputs from organic matter or nutrients within distinct isotope values can be distinguished easily if the input is large and the isotope values are significantly distinct from background values. For smaller inputs changes in stable isotope values were not observed relative the background variability in the system. In this case, sites should be selected to allow for the characterization the variation in isotope values already occurring within the river. Samples collected later in the growing seasons have more distinctive isotope values are between sites. At sites where seasonal variation is greater, the organisms collected may not show a clear separation between trophic levels. A lack of knowledge regarding the time period represented by the tissues of the organisms challenges interpretation these results. It is concluded that stable isotope values of aquatic organisms reflected the condition of this watershed. For nitrogen increasing loads from point sources were accompanied by increasing isotope values. Stable isotope values decreased over the river reach where recovery in river condition occurs as a result of ground water inputs. The influence of individual large MWWTP and reservoirs was observable and the management of the MWWTP and reservoir appears to affect the changes in isotope values which are observed.
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Heather Anne Loomer (2009). The Dynamics of Carbon and Nitrogen Stable Isotope Analysis of Aquatic Organisms within the Grand River Watershed. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/4263