Bivalve growth rate and isotopic variability across the Barents Sea Polar Front

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Journal of Marine Systems

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Department or Program


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Analysis of bivalve shell increments provides a means to reconstruct long-term patterns in growth histories and assess factors that regulate marine ecosystems, while tissue stable isotopes are indicators of food sources and trophic dynamics. We examined shell growth patterns and tissue stable isotopic composition (δ13C and δ15N) of the hairy cockle (Ciliatocardium ciliatum) in the northwest Barents Sea to evaluate the influence of different water masses and the Polar Front on growth rates and food sources and to assess the influence of climatic variability on ecological processes over seasonal to decadal scales. Shell growth rates were highest in Atlantic water, intermediate in Arctic water, and lowest at the Polar Front. Temporal patterns of ontogenetically-adjusted growth (SGI) were negatively correlated with the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO), local precipitation and ice-free days. The highest growth occurred during colder periods with more sea ice, while lower growth was associated with warmer periods and less sea ice. Stable isotope values of lipid-extracted tissues from Atlantic water cockles were enriched in δ13C by up to 2.1‰ and δ15N by 1.5‰ compared to animals from Arctic waters. Distinct seasonal and water mass variations in stable isotopic values reflect spatial and temporal variability in food supplies to the bivalves in this region on small spatial scales. Overall, Atlantic waters supported the highest growth rates, the most complex trophic webs, and the greatest sensitivity to interannual variability in environmental conditions. Bivalves from Arctic waters were the most distinct of the three groups in their response to regional climate forcing and local environmental manifestations of those conditions. The Polar Front exhibits growth and isotopic characteristics predominantly of the Atlantic domain.

These results demonstrate that integrating results of sclerochronological and stable isotopic analyses of benthic bivalves provide independent, corroborative lines of evidence and added insight into the ecological function of these systems when assessing potential effects of changes in water mass distributions in the Barents Sea.


Original version is available from the publisher at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jmarsys.2013.10.006

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