Royal Society open science | VOL. 9

Diet variation in a critically endangered marine predator revealed with stable isotope analysis.

Publication Date Aug 1, 2022


Understanding the foraging ecology of animals gives insights into their trophic relationships and habitat use. We used stable isotope analysis to understand the foraging ecology of a critically endangered marine predator, the Māui dolphin. We analysed carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios of skin samples (n = 101) collected from 1993 to 2021 to investigate temporal changes in diet and niche space. Genetic monitoring associated each sample with a DNA profile which allowed us to assess individual and population level changes in diet. Potential prey and trophic level indicator samples were also collected (n = 166; 15 species) and incorporated in Bayesian mixing models to estimate importance of prey types to Māui dolphin diet. We found isotopic niche space had decreased over time, particularly since the 2008 implementation of a Marine Mammal Sanctuary. We observed a decreasing trend in ∂13C and ∂15N values, but this was not linear and several fluctuations in isotope values occurred over time. The largest variation in isotope values occurred during an El Niño event, suggesting that prey is influenced by climate-driven oceanographic variables. Mixing models indicated relative importance of prey remained constant since 2008. The isotopic variability observed here is not consistent with individual specialization, rather it occurs at the population level.


Variation In Isotope Values Changes In Diet Population Level Changes 15N Values Population Level Individual Specialization Niche Space Stable Isotope Analysis Trophic Relationships Potential Prey

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No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors. The conception and design of the study, acquisition of data, analysis and interpretatio...

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