Estuaries and Coasts

, Volume 42, Issue 5, pp 1281–1296 | Cite as

Assimilation of Allochthonous Matter by Estuarine Consumers During the 2015 El Niño Event

  • Adna Ferreira Silva GarciaEmail author
  • Stéphanie Pasquaud
  • Henrique Cabral
  • Alexandre Miranda Garcia
  • Maurício Lang dos Santos
  • João Paes Vieira


The El Niño phenomenon refers to a warming of the tropical Pacific basin whose meteorological effects influence the dynamics of aquatic ecosystems around the world. Prior studies have shown that strong El Niño events are highly correlated with high rainfall episodes and high freshwater discharge into subtropical estuaries, with subsequent changes in species composition, abundance, and diversity of their biota. In this work, we evaluated the hypothesis that riverine allochthonous matter associated with the strong 2015 El Niño event is assimilated by decapod crustaceans and fishes of a southwestern Atlantic estuary. We analyzed carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) stable isotope ratios of primary food sources and consumers in the estuary and of riverine allochthonous matter. Our findings revealed that higher water surplus and lower salinity associated with the 2015 El Niño coincided with an increase in the number of freshwater fish species and a decrease in the number of marine- and estuarine-dependent fishes inside the estuary. In addition, most estuarine consumers had lower average δ13C values during the wet period associated with the 2015 El Niño. This seemed to reflect the assimilation of 13C-depleted riverine matter, which according to Bayesian isotope mixing models ranged from 11% (adult resident decapod crustaceans) to 60% (adult resident fishes) during the wet season. Further studies are needed to evaluate the role of El Niño events on structuring food web organization in estuaries under the influence of this climatic phenomenon, which may become more frequent and intense in a global warming scenario.


Fishes Decapod crustaceans Southwestern Atlantic estuaries Carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes ENSO Tramandaí–Armazém estuarine complex 



The authors are thankful to FAPERGS (project no. 2327-2551/14-6) by the financial support for field sampling and sample processing and to CAPES-PVE (project no. A101-2013) by financial support for running the stable isotope analysis. Adna Garcia thanks CAPES and PDSE (Proc. 88881.132228/2016-01) program for the doctorate scholarship at the Science Faculty in Lisboa University; Paula Pereyra, Kerolen Neves, Verónica Robles, and Ítalo Marchetti for their assistance with sample processing; and the fisherman Milton for helping during fish collections. AMG is thankful for the research fellowship provided by CNPq (Proc. 309208/2018-1). Stéphanie Pasquaud was funded with the Post-Doc grant SFRH/BPD/89480/2012 from FCT.

Supplementary material

12237_2019_570_MOESM1_ESM.docx (24 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 23 kb)
12237_2019_570_MOESM2_ESM.docx (33 kb)
ESM 2 (DOCX 33 kb)
12237_2019_570_MOESM3_ESM.docx (529 kb)
Fig Supplementary 1 Temporal variations in the Oceanic Niño Index (ONI), air temperature (oC) (superior and middle panels), and rainfall, evapotranspiration and water surplus (bottom panel) in the months preceding each field collection. (DOCX 529 kb)
12237_2019_570_MOESM4_ESM.docx (35 kb)
Fig Supplementary 2 Average values of carbon (δ13C) (filled columns) and nitrogen (δ15N) (open columns) stable isotope ratios of particulate organic matter in suspension (POM) and in sediment (SOM) sampled in the river emptying into the estuary during the dry and wet periods. Letters denote statistically significant differences (Tukey’s post-hoc test, α = 5%), with uppper case letters indicating differences in δ15N and lower case letters differences in δ13C average values. (DOCX 34 kb)
12237_2019_570_MOESM5_ESM.docx (223 kb)
Fig Supplementary 3 Diagnostic matrix plots showing the covariance structure between each pair of basal food sources. The main diagonal shows histograms of the distribution of possible solutions for each sources, the upper diagonal shows the contour plots of the relationship between sources, and the lower diagonal shows the correlation between each pair of sources. (DOCX 222 kb)
12237_2019_570_MOESM6_ESM.docx (1.9 mb)
Fig Supplementary 4 Biplots of carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) stable isotope ratios with simulated mixing polygons, where filled circles represent consumers within each trophic guild and white crosses average autotrophic source values. Isotope fractionation correction was added to each average autotrophic source in order to run the simulations (see the “Material and Methods” section for fractionation values used). Color gradient represents probability contours which indicate how often a mixing polygon encloses an area. The outermost contour represents the 5% likelihood fit of a mixing model. The isotopic composition of those consumers situated outside the 95% mixing region (the outermost contour) cannot be adequately explain by the mixing model. See Table 1 for codes of consumers’ guilds. (DOCX 1930 kb)


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Copyright information

© Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Graduate Program in Biology of Continental Aquatic Systems, Oceanography InstituteRio Grande Federal UniversityRio GrandeBrazil
  2. 2.MARE—Marine and Environmental Sciences CentreUniversidade de Lisboa, Faculdade de CiênciasLisbonPortugal
  3. 3.Irstea, UR EABX (Ecosystèmes Aquatiques et Changements Globaux), Centre de BordeauxCestasFrance

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