The stable carbon isotope ratios (d13C) of the organic fraction of intertidal sediments in the Forth Estuary and the Firth of Forth, Scotland, were measured to determine if terrestrially derived carbon was present in the estuarine sediments. It was hypothesised that differences in the inputs from marine vs. terrestrial sources to the organic carbon of estuarine and marine sediments, as well as differences in ambient seawater stable oxygen isotope (d18O) ratios between the estuary and the Outer Firth, would allow the use of these two stable isotopes as habitat markers for juvenile plaice (Pleuronectes platessa), to allow determination of nursery habitats. Muddy and sandy sediments from the estuary and sandy sediments from the Outer Firth were sampled and d13C measured. Juvenile plaice were caught at two estuarine sites and at two Outer Firth sites and otoliths were removed for d13C and d18O analysis. The sandy sediments in the estuary showed a strong gradient of d13C enrichment with distance down the estuary, while the muddy sediments showed a much shallower gradient. d13C and d18O measured in the carbonate of juvenile plaice otoliths showed no clear difference between otoliths of fish caught at one of the estuarine sites and at the two Outer Firth sites. However, the isotope ratios of both carbon and oxygen in plaice otoliths from the other estuarine site showed the expected trend of depletion in the heavier isotopes. While the measurements recorded here did not conclusively distinguish between otoliths from juveniles caught in the estuarine site and those caught in the other three sites, they show that stable isotopes have potential to distinguish between estuarine habitats with terrestrial carbon inputs, and coastal marine habitats with predominantly marine carbon inputs. © 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
- Forth Estuary
- stable isotope