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Egg boons: central components of marine fatty acid food webs

Fuiman, Lee A. ; Connelly, Tara L. ; Lowerre - Barbieri, Susan K. ; Mclelland, James W.

Ecology, February 2015, Vol.96(2), pp.362-372 [Peer Reviewed Journal]

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  • Title:
    Egg boons: central components of marine fatty acid food webs
  • Author: Fuiman, Lee A. ; Connelly, Tara L. ; Lowerre - Barbieri, Susan K. ; Mclelland, James W.
  • Description: Food web relationships are traditionally defined in terms of the flow of key elements, such as carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus, and their role in limiting production. There is growing recognition that availability of important biomolecules, such as fatty acids, may exert controls on secondary production that are not easily explained by traditional element‐oriented models. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are required by most organisms for proper physiological function but are manufactured almost entirely by primary producers. Therefore, the flow of EFAs, especially docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and arachidonic acid (ARA), through aquatic food webs is critical for ecosystem functioning. A meta‐analysis of data on the EFA content of marine organisms reveals that individual eggs of marine animals have exceptionally high concentrations of EFAs, and that superabundances of eggs released in temporally and spatially discrete patches create rich, but temporary, nutritional resources for egg predators, called “egg boons.” Mortality rates of fish eggs are disproportionately higher than animals of similar size, and those eggs are consumed by predators, both larger and smaller than the adults that produce the eggs. Thus, egg boons are a major trophic pathway through which EFAs are repackaged and redistributed, and they are among the few pathways that run counter to the main direction of trophic flow. Egg boons can transport EFAs across ecosystems through advection of patches of eggs and spawning migrations of adults. Recognizing the significance of egg boons to aquatic food webs reveals linkages and feedbacks between organisms and environments that have important implications for understanding how food webs vary in time and space. Examples are given of top‐down, bottom‐up, and lateral control mechanisms that could significantly alter food webs through their effects on eggs. Our results suggest that trophodynamic food web models should include EFAs generally, and egg production and egg EFA content in particular.
  • Is Part Of: Ecology, February 2015, Vol.96(2), pp.362-372
  • Identifier: ISSN: 0012-9658 ; E-ISSN: 1939-9170 ; DOI: 10.1890/14-0571.1
  • Subjects: Arachidonic Acid ; Docosahexaenoic Acid ; Egg Production ; Eggs ; Eicosapentaenoic Acid ; Fatty Acids ; Food Webs ; Nutritional Ecology ; Trophic Transfer ; Trophodynamics

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