Marine Biology

, Volume 155, Issue 6, pp 637–647 | Cite as

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

  • Teresa CatryEmail author
  • Jaime A. Ramos
  • Matthieu Le Corre
  • Jessica Kojadinovic
  • Paco Bustamante
Original Paper


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 neighboring islands of the Seychelles archipelago, western Indian Ocean) during both the breeding and inter-breeding periods. Overall, we found a high overlap in both δ15N and δ13C signatures among species. The high inter-specific 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 inter-specific 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.


Mercury Level Western Indian Ocean Body Feather High Mercury Level Sooty Tern 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We would like to acknowledge Island Conservation Society (ICS) and Nature Seychelles for permission to work on Aride and Cousin Islands, respectively. Two anonymous reviewers provide very helpful comments on an early draft of the manuscript. TC was funded by a portuguese doctoral grant from Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (SFRH/BD/16706/2004). This work is part of a regional programme on seabirds as bioindicators of the marine environment, funded by the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (Marine Science for Management Grant, MASMA/AG/2004/04), and by the Agence National pour la Recherche (Program REMIGE-ANR Biodiversité 2005–011). This research was conducted under permission of the Seychelles Bureau of Standards, Republic of Seychelles.

Supplementary material

227_2008_1060_MOESM1_ESM.doc (82 kb)
Supplementary tables (DOC 82 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Teresa Catry
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jaime A. Ramos
    • 1
  • Matthieu Le Corre
    • 2
  • Jessica Kojadinovic
    • 2
    • 3
  • Paco Bustamante
    • 3
  1. 1.Institute of Marine Research (IMAR), Department of ZoologyUniversity of CoimbraCoimbraPortugal
  2. 2.Laboratoire ECOMARUniversité de la RéunionSaint Denis message Cedex 9France
  3. 3.Littoral Environnement et Sociétés (LIENSs)UMR 6250 CNRS-Université La RochelleLa Rochelle Cedex 01France

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