Spatial variation in periphyton fatty acid composition in subtropical streams
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1. Benthic algae play an important role in many stream food webs, not only serving as a major carbon source but also influencing energy transfer as the primary source of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). Dietary deficiency in PUFA can limit animal growth and reproduction. Algal PUFA content can vary considerably in response to abiotic factors. 2. We conducted a field investigation in streams in South-East Queensland, Australia, to identify environmental factors affecting the fatty acid composition of periphyton. 3. Riparian canopy cover and NOx-N concentrations explained most of the observed variation in periphyton fatty acid profiles. NOx-N concentrations showed negative relationships with most saturated fatty acids (SAFA), while mono-unsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) and the fatty acids 16:0 and 16:1ω7 were negatively correlated with canopy cover. In contrast, the percentage of highly unsaturated fatty acids (HUFA) in periphyton was greater with increasing canopy cover regardless of NOx-N concentrations. 4. Variation in riparian canopy cover and nutrients gave rise to opposite outcomes in terms of periphyton food quality and quantity. The highest periphyton food quality, measured by HUFA content, occurred in streams with high canopy cover and low nutrients, while the highest periphyton food quantity occurred in streams with low canopy cover. 5. Our study suggests that changes in riparian vegetation and/or nutrient inputs can significantly alter the fatty acid content of periphyton, with important implications for aquatic consumers. We recommend that future studies on impacts of riparian clearing or nutrient enrichment in stream ecosystems place more attention on the effects of food quality rather than quantity.
© 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Spatial variation in periphyton fatty acid composition in subtropical streams, Freshwater Biology, Volume 60, Issue 7, pages 1411-1422, July 2015, which has been published in final form at 10.1111/fwb.12578. This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Self-Archiving (http://olabout.wiley.com/WileyCDA/Section/id-828039.html)