This paper reports large variations in stable carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios of lake anchovy (Coilia ectenes taihuensis) from Lake Chaohu, China. The lake anchovy exhibited a significant 13C- and 15N- enrichment in relation to increasing fish length, and the isotopic compositions of small lake anchovy (≤ 130 mm) were significantly more enriched than those of large lake anchovy (>130 mm). The significant differences in the isotopic compositions of small and large lake anchovy suggested that their assimilated diets differed over a period of time and reflected the size-related diet shift of this fish. Bellamya aeruginosa and Corbicula fluminea were used to establish the baseline carbon signal of benthic and pelagic food webs, and these data were used to parameterize a 2-source mixing model to estimate in consumers the contribution of carbon derived from benthic versus pelagic food webs. Mixing models showed that small lake anchovy derived only 37% of their carbon from benthic food web, indicating increased reliance on pelagic prey, whereas benthic prey contributed 71% of large lake anchovy diet, suggesting greater use of benthic sources. These data indicate that there was a change in lake anchovy feeding strategy related to their size, suggesting a role in dynamic coupling between pelagic and benthic food chains. The trophic position of small lake anchovy averaged 3.0, indicating a zooplankton-based diet, compared with 3.6 in large lake anchovy, indicative of an increase in piscivorous diet. Overlap in the isotopic compositions of small and large lake anchovy probably indicated that these fish occasionally shared common diets, as suggested by stomach content studies, and/or resulted from the differences in the rate of isotopic turnover depending on differences in growth rate and metabolic turnover between small and large anchovy during diet shift from pelagic to benthic food webs. This study presents the contributions of benthic and pelagic food webs supporting lake anchovy and indicates that the intraspecific isotopic dynamic should be considered when applying stable isotope analyses to infer trophic interactions in aquatic ecosystems.
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