Biomass Transfer Subsidizes Nitrogen to Offshore Food Webs

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ecosystem subsidies, allocthonous, biomass, seagrass, food web, secondary production

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We evaluated the potential contribution of allochthonous biomass subsidies to the upper trophic levels of offshore food webs in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico (GOM). We made this evaluation considering nitrogen, an essential and often limiting nutrient in coastal ecosystems, to estimate the potential production of within-ecosystem biomass relative to the known import of biomass from an adjacent seagrass-dominated ecosystem. When adjusted for trophic transfer efficiency, we found the biomass subsidy from a single species (pinfish, Lagodon rhomboides) from nearshore seagrass habitat to the offshore GOM to be greater than the amount of nitrogen exported by two major rivers and local submarine ground water discharge. Our calculations show that seagrass-derived biomass accounts for approximately 25% of the total potential production in the northeastern GOM. This estimate is in agreement with a previous study that found 18.5–25% of the biomass in a predatory reef fish was derived from seagrass biomass inputs. These results indicate that all of the sources we consider account for the majority of the nitrogen available to the food web in the northeastern GOM. Our approach could be adapted to other coupled ecosystems to determine the relative importance of biomass subsidies to coastal ocean food webs.

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Ecosystems, v. 16, p. 1130-1138