Stable Isotopes Approach to Infer the Feeding Habit and Trophic Position of Freshwater Fishes in Tropical Lakes


1 Environmental Technology, School of Industrial Technology, Universiti Sains Malaysia, USM 11800, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia

2 School of Biological Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia, 11800 USM, Penang, Malaysia


A study was conducted on the stable isotope variation of muscle tissues from selected freshwater fish species from Temenggor Lake and Chenderoh Lake, Perak, Malaysia from December 2014 to March 2015. The objective is to assess the stable isotopes of δ13C to identify the carbon sources and δ15N of fish species from Temenggor and Chenderoh Lake, Perak, Malaysia to infer the trophic position of these fishes. Four types of fish species were analyzed by using stable isotope approach which were Hampala barb (Hampala macrolepidota), Oxygaster cyprinus (Oxygaster anomalura), Peacock Bass (Cichla ocellaris) and Nile Tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus). Stable isotopes of δ13C and δ15N were analysed using an elemental analyser Thermo Finnigan Flash EA 2000 connected to Finningan delta v avantage plus isotope ratio mass spectrometry by a ConFlo II interface. The δ13C values from both lakes implies a C3 phytoplankton as reported from the literature. Based on δ15N values of   fish species, O. anomalura occupies the highest trophic level in Temenggor Lake, reflecting its carnivorous feeding habit despite its small size while C. ocellaris was the highest in Chenderoh Lake, implying its predatory behaviour. Further analysis should be carried out to incorporate primary producers and consumers to elucidate the food web in the tropical lake ecosystem. This study provides  a  reference    record  for  conducting  stable  isotopes  in  the  food  web  of  tropical  lake ecosystem for better management and deeper understanding of the ecosystem functioning.


1.   Sondergaard, M., B. Riemann , and L.M. Jensen, 1988. Pelagic Food Web processes in an oligotrophic lake. Hydrobiologia, 164: 271-286.

2.   Trites, A.W.,  2001. Food Webs in the Ocean: Who Eats Whom and How Much?. Reykjavik Conference on Responsible Fisheries in the Marine Ecosystem.

3.   Pinnegar,  J.  K.,  and  N.  V.  C.  Polunin.  1999. Differential fractionation of   delta δ13C   and   δ15N   among   fish   tissues: Implications for the study of trophic interactions.   Functional Ecology, 13: 225-231.

4.   Michener, H. Robert, and L. Kaufman, 2007. Stable isotope ratios as tracers in marine food webs: an update. Stable isotopes in ecology and environmental science, 238-282.

5.   Peterson,  J.  Bruce,  and  B.  Fry,  1987.  Stable  isotopes  in ecosystem studies.Annual review of ecology and systematics, 293-320.

6.    Hobson,  A.  Keith,  1999.  Tracing  origins  and  migration  of wildlife using stable isotopes: a review. Oecologia, 120: 314-326.

7.   Abreu, P. C., C.S. Costa, C. Bemvenuti, C.   Odebrecht, W. Graneli, and A.M. Anesio, 2006. Eutrophication processes and trophic interactions in a  shallow estuary: preliminary results based on stable isotope analysis (δ13C and δ15N). Estuaries and Coasts,  29: 277-285.

8.   Sulzman and  W. Elizabeth, 2007. Stable isotope chemistry and measurement: a primer. Eds. R. Michener, and K. Lajtha. Blackwell Publishing, Oxford.

9.   Zulkifli, S. Z., F. Mohamat-Yusuff, A. Mukhtar, A. Ismail, and N.  Miyazaki,  2014.  Determination of food  web  in  intertidal mudflat of tropical mangrove ecosystem using stable isotope markers: A preliminary study. Life Science Journal, 11, 427-431.

10. Zanden, M., and J.B. Rasmussen, 2001. Variation in δ15N and δ13C trophic fractionation: implications for aquatic food web studies. Limnology and oceanography, 46: 2061-2066.

11. Cabana, G., and J.B. Rasmussen, 1996. Comparison of aquatic food   chains   using   nitrogen   isotopes. Proceedings   of   the National Academy of Sciences, 93: 10844-10847.

12. Vander Zanden, M. J., J.M. Casselman, and J.B. Rasmussen, 1999.  Stable isotope evidence for the food web consequences of species invasions in lakes.Nature, 401: 464-467.

13. Hashim, Z. H., A.S.R.M  Shah, M.S. Mohammad, M. Mansor, and  S.A.M.  Sah,  2012.  Fishes  of  Sungai  Enam  and  Sungai Telang in Temengor Reservoir, Perak, Malaysia. Check List, 8: 027-031.

14. Hamid, M. A., M. Mansor, Z.H. Hashim, M. Syaiful, and M.A. Hamid, 2012. A comparative study of fish population in Temengor     Reservoir     and     Bersia     Reservoir,     Perak, Malaysia. Journal of Research in Biology, 2: 184-192.

15. NAHRIM, 2005. A Desk Study on the Status of Eutrophication of Lakes in Malaysia. Seri  Kembangan:  National  Hydraulic  Research  Institute  of Malaysia; 2009.

16. Huang, Y. F., S.Y. Ang, K.M. Lee, and  T.S. Lee, 2015. Quality of Water Resources in Malaysia.

17. Thomas C.J., and L.B. Cahoon, 1993. Stable isotope analyses differentiate  between  different  trophic  pathways  supporting rocky-reef fishes. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 95:19–24.

18. Tieszen L.L., T.W. Boutton, K.G. Tesdahl, N.A. Slade, 1983. Fractionation and turnover of stable carbon isotopes in animal tissues: implications for δ13C analysis of diet. Oecologia 57: 32–37.

19. Jacob, U., K. Mintenbeck, T. Brey, R. Knust, K. Beyer, 2005. Stable isotope food web studies: A 775 case for standardized sample treatment. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 287: 251-253.

20. Matthews, W., 1998. Patterns in Freshwater Fish Ecology. New York; Kluwer Academic Publishers, 365.

21. Lloyd  R.,  1992.Pollution  and  freshwater  fish.  Fishing  News Books, Oxford, UK., 192.

22. EPA. 5.8 Total Dissolved Solids. In Water: Monitoring and Assessment.2012. Retrieved from

23. Garcia,  A.  M.,  D.J.  Hoeinghaus,  J.P.  Vieira,  and     K.O. Winemiller, 2007. Isotopic variation of fishes in freshwater and estuarine zones of a large subtropical coastal lagoon. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science, 73: 399-408.

24. Marshall, J. D., J.R Brooks, and  K.  Lajtha, 2007. Sources of variation  in  the stable isotopic composition  of plants. Stable isotopes in ecology and environmental science, 22-60.

25. Rogers, K. M., 2013. Using Stable Isotopes to detect land use change  and  nitrogen  sources  in  aquatic  systems. Assessing Nutrient Dynamics in River Basins, 129.

26. Ambak,  M.  Azmi,  M.  M.  Isa,  M.  Z.  Zakaria,  and  M.A. Ghaffar. Fishes of Malaysia, 2012.

27. Minagawa, M., and  E. Wada, 1984. Stepwise enrichment of N-15 along food-chains further evidence and the relation between delta-N-15 and animal age. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta. 48: 1135-1140.

28. Vanderklift, M.A., and S. Ponsard, 2003. Sources of variation in consumer-diet d15N enrichment: a meta-analysis. Oecologia. 136: 169-182