Carbon, nitrogen, and fatty acid contents for the diatom Conticribra weissflogii and for the larvae of the polychaete Lanice conchilega

The larvae of the reef-building polychaete Lanice conchilega can make up to 15% of the summer zooplankton biomass in the North Sea. Despite their importance for reef maintenance (which positively affects the benthic community), little is known about the trophic ecology of this meroplanktonic larva. Qualitative and quantitative estimates of carbon (C) transfer between trophic levels and of fatty acid (FA)-specific assimilation, biosynthesis, and bioconversion can be obtained by compound-specific stable isotope analysis of FA. The present work tested the hypothesis that the concept of fatty acid trophic markers (FATM), widely used for studies on holoplankton with intermediate to high lipid contents, is also applicable to lipid-poor organisms such as meroplanktonic larvae. The incorporation of isotopically-enriched dietary C by L. conchilega larvae was traced, and lipid assimilation did not follow FA-specific relative availabilities in the diet. Furthermore, FAs that were unavailable in the diet, such as 22:5(n-3), were recorded in L. conchilega, suggesting their bioconversion by the larvae. The results indicate that L. conchilega larvae preferentially assimilate certain FAs and regulate their FA composition (lipid homeostasis) independently of that of their diet. Their quasi-homeostatic response to dietary FA availability could imply that the concept of FATM has limited application in lipid-poor organisms such as L. conchilega larvae.