Plasticity and specialisation in the isotopic niche of African clawless otters foraging in marine and freshwater habitats


Individual-level behavioural plasticity resulting from differences in environmental conditions is prevalent in many organisms and may result in phenomena such as dietary- or habitat specialisation. The isotopic niche of African clawless otters, Aonyx capensis, occupying different habitats was investigated with the use of stable isotope techniques. Stable isotope analyses revealed that African clawless otter isotopic niche varied between, as well as within, individuals and varied when compared to conspecifics occupying different habitats. Some otters varied their isotopic niche and foraging areas temporally, whilst others did not. The isotopic niche of African clawless otters in a coastal habitat overlapped substantially with previous reports on otter diet, but illustrated that otters eat more shark and molluscs than previously estimated. In freshwater habitats, not all otters had trout in their isotopic niche, although this prey item was abundantly available in the study area. Our results suggest that the African clawless otters can exhibit substantial behavioural plasticity. Such evident adaptability is likely to benefit otters and allow for extended use of non-pristine environments affected by human disturbance when sufficient quantities of prey remain available.

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Jordaan, R.K., Somers, M.J., Hall, G. et al. Plasticity and specialisation in the isotopic niche of African clawless otters foraging in marine and freshwater habitats. Mamm Biol 98, 61–72 (2019).

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  • Behavioural plasticity
  • Diet
  • Isotope analysis
  • Trout
  • Conflict
  • Africa