Climate change driven alterations to patterns of Arctic marine primary production, with increasing phytoplankton- and decreasing ice algal production, have the potential to change the resource utilisation and trophic structure of the benthic communities relying on the algae for food. To predict the benthic responses to dietary changes, we studied the macroinfaunal community compositions, and used the faunal δ13C and δ15N signatures to investigate their main food sources and trophic positions in North Water (NOW) and Lancaster Sound (LS) polynyas in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Macroinfaunal density (10 952 ind. m-2) and biomass (3190 mg C m-2) recorded in NOW were higher than previously found in the Arctic at depths >500m, and significantly higher than in LS (8355 ind. m-2 and 2110 mg C m-2). This was attributed to higher particulate organic matter fluxes to seafloor in NOW. Polychaetes were significant taxa at both sites in terms of density and biomass, and in addition crustacean density in NOW and bivalve density in LS were high. Facultative filter and surface deposit feeders were highly prevalent at both sites, suggesting feeding plasticity is a successful strategy for accessing different food sources. The macrofaunal δ13C signatures reflected the signatures of pelagic particulate organic matter at the sites, and an isotope mixing model confirmed phytoplankton as the main food source for most taxa and feeding guilds. The food web length in LS was longer than in NOW (3.2 vs. 2.8 trophic levels). This was attributed to a larger reliance on reworked organic matter by the benthic community in LS, whereas the high export fluxes at the highly productive NOW resulted in higher rates of selective consumption of fresh algal matter. Despite studies suggesting that loss of ice algae from consumer diets in the Arctic might have a negative impact on the benthos, this study suggests that Arctic macrobenthic communities thrive using phytoplankton as their main food source and should thus be able to cope or even benefit from predicted changes to patterns of primary production.
Bibliographical noteFunding: This work was supported by Natural Environment Research Council grant NE/J023094, http://www.nerc.ac.uk (UW); University of Aberdeen “The North” theme (AM); ArcticNet, http://www.arcticnet.ulaval.ca/ (PA). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
Data Availability: All relevant data are within the paper and its Supporting Information file.
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