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Long-term species, sexual and individual variations in foraging strategies of fur seals revealed by stable isotopes in whiskers

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posted on 2012-03-14, 00:00 authored by L Kernaleguen, B Cazelles, John ArnouldJohn Arnould, P Richard, C Guinet, Y Cherel
Background: Individual variations in the use of the species niche are an important component of diversity in trophic interactions. A challenge in testing consistency of individual foraging strategy is the repeated collection of information on the same individuals.

Methodology/Principal Findings: The foraging strategies of sympatric fur seals (Arctocephalus gazella and A. tropicalis) were examined using the stable isotope signature of serially sampled whiskers. Most whiskers exhibited synchronous delta C-13 and delta N-15 oscillations that correspond to the seal annual movements over the long term (up to 8 years). delta C-13 and delta N-15 values were spread over large ranges, with differences between species, sexes and individuals. The main segregating mechanism operates at the spatial scale. Most seals favored foraging in subantarctic waters (where the Crozet Islands are located) where they fed on myctophids. However, A. gazella dispersed in the Antarctic Zone and A. tropicalis more in the subtropics. Gender differences in annual time budget shape the seal movements. Males that do not perform any parental care exhibited large isotopic oscillations reflecting broad annual migrations, while isotopic values of females confined to a limited foraging range during lactation exhibited smaller changes. Limited inter-individual isotopic variations occurred in female seals and in male A. tropicalis. In contrast, male A. gazella showed large inter-individual variations, with some males migrating repeatedly to high-Antarctic waters where they fed on krill, thus meaning that individual specialization occurred over years.

Conclusions/Significance: Whisker isotopic signature yields unique long-term information on individual behaviour that integrates the spatial, trophic and temporal dimensions of the ecological niche. The method allows depicting the entire realized niche of the species, including some of its less well-known components such as age-, sex-, individual- and migration-related changes. It highlights intrapopulation heterogeneity in foraging strategies that could have important implications for likely demographic responses to environmental variability.



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C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Copyright notice

2012, Public Library of Science