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Young, Old, and Weathered Carbon—Part 2: Using Radiocarbon and Stable Isotopes to Identify Terrestrial Carbon Support of the Food Web in an Alkaline, Humic Lake

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 February 2016

Evelyn M Keaveney*
14CHRONO Centre, School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology, Queen's University Belfast BT71NN, UK
Paula J Reimer
14CHRONO Centre, School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology, Queen's University Belfast BT71NN, UK
Robert H Foy
Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute, Newforge Lane, Belfast BT95PX, UK School of Biological Sciences, Queen's University Belfast BT71NN, UK
2.Corresponding author. Email:


Carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) stable isotope analysis (SIA) has been used to identify the terrestrial subsidy of freshwater food webs. However, SIA fails to differentiate between the contributions of old and recently fixed terrestrial C and consequently cannot fully determine the source, age, and biochemical quality of terrestrial carbon. Natural abundance radiocarbon (Δ14C) was used to examine the age and origin of carbon in Lower Lough Erne, Northern Ireland. 14C and stable isotope values were obtained from invertebrate, algae, and fish samples, and the results indicate that terrestrial organic C is evident at all trophic levels. High winter δ15N values in calanoid zooplankton (δ15N = 24‰) relative to phytoplankton and particulate organic matter (δ15N = 6‰ and 12‰, respectively) may reflect several microbial trophic levels between terrestrial C and calanoid invertebrates. Winter and summer calanoid Δ14C values show a seasonal switch between autochthonous and terrestrial carbon sources. Fish Δ14C values indicate terrestrial support at the highest trophic levels in littoral and pelagic food webs. 14C therefore is useful in attributing the source of carbon in freshwater in addition to tracing the pathway of terrestrial carbon through the food web.

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