The role of stable isotopes and mercury concentrations to describe seabird foraging ecology in tropical environments

Abstract : Nitrogen (δ15N) and carbon (δ13C) stable isotopes and contaminants, such as mercury, have been widely used to characterise foraging ecology of temperate and polar seabirds. In this study, for the first time, we used isotopic signatures and mercury levels of feathers and blood of eight tropical seabird species, that forage in a range-gradient between inshore and offshore areas, to describe the foraging habits of a large tropical seabird community (from two neighbouring islands of the Seychelles archipelago, western Indian Ocean) during both the breeding and interbreeding periods. Overall, we found a high overlap in both δ15N and δ13C signatures among species. The high interspecific overlap in δ15N values was expected, given the similarities in the diet of the species from this community. However, several unexpected results, such as (1) the consistently higher δ15N signatures of white terns (Gygis alba), (2) the large variation in inter-specific differences in δ15N signatures among the sampling groups (season, age, island and tissue) and (3) the consistent low δ15N values of breeding birds during the northwest monsoon (austral summer), suggest that δ15N signatures cannot be used as indicators of seabird trophic levels in this community. The high interspecific overlap in δ13C signatures and the absence, during the breeding season, of a δ13C gradient that follows the inshore-offshore foraging gradient within the community can be explained by the habitat homogeneity of the Seychelles continental shelf and suggest that birds forage mostly within the limits of this "plateau". On the other hand, the similarities in δ13C values between the breeding and inter-breeding periods in species that are known to show post-breeding dispersal, strongly support the hypothesis of a lack of latitudinal variation in δ13C signatures of POM in the central Indian Ocean, and the consequent inaccuracy of δ13C values to track seabird movements within this geographic area. Inter-specific differences in mercury levels seem to be related to prey size, while consistent higher mercury concentrations in one of the studied islands suggest different island mercury-backgrounds and possible segregation in foraging areas between the seabirds of the two islands.
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Teresa Catry, Jaime Ramos, Matthieu Le Corre, Jessica Kojadinovic, Paco Bustamante. The role of stable isotopes and mercury concentrations to describe seabird foraging ecology in tropical environments. Marine Biology, Springer Verlag, 2008, 155 (6), pp.637-647. ⟨10.1007/s00227-008-1060-6⟩. ⟨hal-00667129⟩



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