One of the paradigms underlying sandy beach ecology is the overriding control by physical processes; thus, biological interactions (i.e. food availability, competition and predation) are believed to play a role structuring macrofaunal communities only in benign habitats such as dissipative beaches. Moreover, sandy beaches are characterized by low in-situ productivity, so their food webs rely heavily on marine inputs. Studies have shown that estuarine organic matter plays a key role in influencing the dynamics of marine ecosystems. However, very few studies have tested the role of estuarine input on sandy beaches. Here, we aim to determine the impact of estuarine input on the food web of a sandy beach macrobenthic community. To this end, particulate organic matter (POM) samples from the marine environment and the estuary, as well as macrobenthic samples from the beach, were analysed for their stable isotope (SI) signature. Our results indicated that the POM SI signatures were not different along the beach, but differences were recorded between marine and estuarine sources. Bayesian mixing models indicated that the organisms did not make use of the estuarine POM at the beginning of the wet season, but relied more heavily on this resource towards the end of the wet season. This leads to the conclusion that changes in estuarine flow throughout the wet season can impact the trophic structure of macrobenthos communities, confirming a link between lotic and marine communities. Moreover, SI signatures suggest that the species collected here exhibit overlapping trophic niches, indicating high level of inter-specific competition. This highlights that species in low-productivity areas, such as the one studied here, can experience high levels of competition even in physically controlled environments such as sandy beaches.
Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science / Vol. 184, pp.115-125