Marine Biology

, Volume 158, Issue 10, pp 2199–2208 | Cite as

Sexual segregation in distribution, diet and trophic level of seabirds: insights from stable isotope analysis

  • Richard A. PhillipsEmail author
  • Rona A. R. McGill
  • Deborah A. Dawson
  • Stuart Bearhop
Original Paper


Considerable attention has focused on inter- and intraspecific variation in trophic niches of marine predators. Although this has revealed evidence for sexual segregation in distribution in some species, few studies have been able to address sex-related dietary specialisation. Stable isotope analysis of blood cells collected from albatrosses and petrels at South Georgia during chick-rearing indicated a difference in δ13C, suggesting that females fed to the north of males, only in two species with male-biased sexual size dimorphism; in no species did sexes differ in trophic level (δ15N). Based on a wider review, significant differences between sexes in isotope signatures were much more common in seabirds during the pre-laying or breeding than the nonbreeding period, presumably reflecting greater between-sex partitioning of resources when foraging ranges are more constrained and competition is greater. Sex differences, or their absence, were usually consistent across successive stages during the pre-laying and breeding periods, but not necessarily year-round nor between populations. Significant differences in isotope signatures between males and females were extremely rare in monomorphic species, suggesting a link between sexual size dimorphism and segregation in diet or distribution. Among the Southern Ocean albatrosses, sex differences in δ13C suggested the underlying mechanism was related to habitat specialisation, whereas in other size-dimorphic taxa (both male- and female-biased), sex differences were more common in δ15N than δ13C and therefore more consistent with size-mediated competitive exclusion or dietary specialisation.


Sexual Size Dimorphism Sexual Segregation Giant Petrel Southern Giant Petrel Diving Petrel 
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 are very grateful to the Bird Island field assistants, particularly Dafydd Roberts, Ben Phalan, Nicholas Warren and Jane Tanton for help with sampling, to Catarina Henriques for sample preparation and to Iain Staniland for useful discussions on fur seal ecology and distribution. Many thanks are also due to the three referees for their thoughtful comments. Robert Buckland and Douglas Ross performed the molecular sex-typing ( at the NERC Biomolecular Analysis Facility - Sheffield (formerly the Molecular Genetics Facility), supported by the Natural Environment Research Council. The isotope analysis at the Life Sciences Mass Spectrometry Facility was funded by NERC award EK50-5/02. Capture and blood-sampling complied with the laws of the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. This study represents a contribution to the British Antarctic Survey Ecosystems Programme.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard A. Phillips
    • 1
    Email author
  • Rona A. R. McGill
    • 2
  • Deborah A. Dawson
    • 3
  • Stuart Bearhop
    • 4
  1. 1.British Antarctic Survey, Natural Environment Research CouncilCambridgeUK
  2. 2.NERC Life Sciences Mass Spectrometry FacilityScottish Universities Environmental Research Centre, Scottish Enterprise Technology ParkEast KilbrideUK
  3. 3.NERC Biomolecular Analysis Facility, Department of Animal and Plant SciencesUniversity of Sheffield, Western BankSheffieldUK
  4. 4.Centre for Ecology and Conservation, School of BiosciencesUniversity of ExeterPenrynUK

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