(Belgium) influences nitrogen and carbon isotopic compositi

Biogeochemical reworking of sewage discharged in the Scheldt Estuary
(Belgium) influences nitrogen and carbon isotopic composition of the aquatic
food chain
D e Brabandere
L., R.
Fisseha, a n d
Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Laboratory for Analytical Chemistry
Pleinlaan 2, 8-1 0 5 0 Brussel
E-mail: [email protected]
Stable C and N isotope ratios were used to study food web characteristics of the brackish part of the
Scheldt Estuary. The river Scheldt is a highly eutrophic system due to heavy antropogenic disturbance as
indicated by high organic matter and ammonium loading. By means of stable isotope analysis, an
attempt was made to detect trophic relationships of the aquatic food chain. Therefore, baseline C and N
isotopic ratios were investigated monthly from May 1999 to March 2000 by measuring the isotopic
composition of suspended particulate organic matter (SPOM).Also the 615N and 613C composition of
species representing different trophic levels of the subtidal food web (copepods, mysids and fish) and the
intertidal food web (endobenthos, shrimps and crabs) were investigated.
and 615NSpoM
values varied seasonally with 613C values ranging from -23.7 (January 2000) to 28.0%0 (June 1999) and 6I5N values ranging from +2.3%0 (January 2000) to +12.9%0 (June 1999).
For copepods, 613C and 615N values varied from -30.7 to -26.4%0 and from +1 1.1 to +25.5%0
respectively. 613C and 615N values of copepods exhibited a seasonal variation and 615N co-varied with
615NS,ow 613C values of two dominant mysid species varied between -29.0 and -25.5%0, 615N values
varied between 11.8 and +25.0%0. Fish 613C values displayed a wide range, from -26.4 to -34.3%0
and 615N values from
15.7 to +33.5%0: depending on the trophic level. In the intertidal food web,
1 7.5 and +26.8%0
macrocrustacea isotopic compositions ranged between -29.0 and -1 8.1 %o and
for 613C and 615N respectively, while endobenthic species had 613C values between -21.4 and -24.4%0
and 615N values between 19.2 and +22%o.
The 615N values were high compared to other estuarine environments. According to Hansson et al.
(1 997), such a situation reflects a high degree of pollution. However, in the present case, 15N-enrichment
in the food chain is not the result of isotope composition of the waste source. Indeed, 615N of sewage
SPOM from the Brussels sewer system, which is discharged untreated into the Scheldt via the Zenne and
Rupel tributaries, does not exceed +3%0 (Fisseha, 2000), while 615N of riparian vegetation averaged
1 .5%0 (Mariotti et al., 1984). Therefore, the 15N enrichment in the Scheldt trophic system is probably
the result of organisms feeding on organic matter which has become enriched during river transport to
the North Sea. Intense biogeochemical reworking of the N pools (bacterial mineralisation, followed by
nitrification and denitrification) are the probable processes enriching 15N in the nutrient pool (NH4+)
utilised by bacteria decomposing detritus (Caraco et al., 1998) and by phytoplankton (Mariotti et al.,
1984). These biogeochemical processes are probably subject to seasonal variability as indicated by
seasonal variability of 615N signal in SPOM and copepods. Similarly to the pelagic food chain, 15N
enrichment of the intertidal food chain due to the incorporation of enriched DIN by phytobenthos has
been mentioned by Riera et al., (2000).
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