Natural Sciences

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Freshwater Biology

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Fatty acids are essential to macroinvertebrate growth and reproduction and can indicate food web structure and nutritional quality of basal resources. However, broad‐scale examinations of how catchment land cover and associated stressors affect the proportions of fatty acids (FAs) in stream food webs are few.

Here, we: (1) examine relationships among proportions of FAs among benthic periphyton and macroinvertebrate collector/gatherers, shredders, and predators; and (2) test if relationships between periphytic and macroinvertebrate FAs were altered due to the intensity of urban development in catchments.

Proportions of the ≥20‐C eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA 20:5ω3), arachidonic acid (ARA 20:4ω6), and docosahexaenoic acid (22:6ω3) indicated collector/gatherers had a diet richer in periphyton than in shredders, which had significantly lower proportions of these FAs. Collector/gatherers were in turn likely to be high‐quality sources of ω3 and ≥ 20‐C FAs for predators, which also had significantly greater EPA and ARA proportions than those in shredders. Linoleic (18:2ω6) and α‐linolenic acid (18:3ω3) comprised the greatest proportions of FAs in shredders, which suggested a diet dominated by leaf litter and associated hyphomycetes.

As catchment urbanisation increased, proportions of total ω3 FAs and EPA in periphyton were significantly greater. This pattern also was seen through macroinvertebrate consumers and predators, given that proportions of these FAs in macroinvertebrates also were significantly correlated with factors associated with catchment urbanisation. The significant increase in total ω3 FAs and EPA proportions within shredders indicated that periphyton growth, and their FAs, increased on leaf litter, probably due to greater nutrient concentrations associated with catchment urbanisation. Proportions of total ω6 FAs in biota were not significantly correlated with factors associated with urban development, which could indicate that they were of sufficient abundance for consumers regardless of urban intensity or possible changes in their sources.

Our study provides an informative first step that identified notable differences in proportions of FAs among macroinvertebrates in urban streams and an increase in proportions of total ω3 FAs and EPA in periphyton, consumers, and predators as catchment urbanisation increases. Identifying how FA relationships within food webs change in response to catchment alterations and stressors could inform land use and management decisions by linking environmental changes to measures important to ecosystem outcomes.


catchment, land cover, macroinvertebrates, nutrients, periphyton




© 2019 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Whorley, S. B., Smucker, N. J., Kuhn, A., & Wehr, J. D. (2019). Urbanisation Alters Fatty Acids in Stream Food Webs. Freshwater Biology, 64(5), 984–996, which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions.


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