Using carbon and nitrogen isotopic values of body feathers to infer inter- and intra-individual variations of seabird feeding ecology during moult
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To determine whether stable isotope measurements of body feathers can be used to investigate the isotopic niche of moulting (inter-nesting) adult seabirds, we examined the stable carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) isotopic composition of body feathers of breeding wandering albatrosses (Diomedea exulans) from Crozet Islands, southern Indian Ocean. First we showed that the isotopic composition of body feathers was not significantly different from that of wing feathers, being thus a safe alternative to flight feathers whose collection impairs the birds’ flying ability. Second, we looked at the variances in δ13C and δ15N values resulting from the isotopic measurement of a single feather, four different feathers, and a pool of four feathers per bird, to delineate the best isotopic analytical procedure. A two-step protocol is proposed that allows investigating both the intra- and inter-individual components of the niche width of the species. In a first step, isotopic measurements on a single feather per bird are used to define isotopic specialist from isotopic generalist populations. In a second step and for generalist populations only, measurements on additional (three) feathers per bird are used to delineate type A from type B isotopic generalists (Bearhop et al. in J Anim Ecol 73:1007–1012, 2004). Third, from a biological point of view, our data showed different moulting isotopic niches for adult males and females, and also within female wandering albatrosses. Since the isotopic composition of body feathers in this species reflects that of wing feathers, our results suggest that, after validation, body feathers have the potential for investigating the foraging ecology of other Procellariiforms and seabirds during the poorly known inter-nesting period.
KeywordsIsotopic Composition Isotopic Signature Isotopic Niche Body Feather Wing Feather
We thank G. Guillou for running stable isotope samples. The present work was supported financially and logistically by the program REMIGE-ANR Biodiversité 2005-011, the Institut Polaire Français Paul Emile Victor (IPEV, programme no. 109, H. Weimerskirch), and the Terres Australes et Antarctiques Françaises (TAAF).
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