Journal of Comparative Physiology B

, Volume 175, Issue 2, pp 133-145

First online:

Dynamics of blood chylomicron fatty acids in a marine carnivore: implications for lipid metabolism and quantitative estimation of predator diets

  • Margaret H. CooperAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Dalhousie University Email author 
  • , Sara J. IversonAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Dalhousie University
  • , Horacio HerasAffiliated withInstituto de Investigaciones Bioquímicas de La Plata (INIBIOLP), CONCET-UNLP, Fac. Medicina, Universidad Nacional de La Plata

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Blubber fatty acid(s) (FA) signatures can provide accurate estimates of predator diets using quantitative FA signature analysis, provided that aspects of predator FA metabolism are taken into account. Because the intestinal absorption of dietary FA and their incorporation into chylomicrons (the primary transport lipoproteins for dietary FA in the blood) may influence the relationship between FA composition in the diet and adipose tissue, we investigated the metabolism of individual FA at these early stages of assimilation. We also investigated the capacity of chylomicron signatures to provide quantitative estimates of prey composition of an experimental meal. Six captive juvenile grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) were fed either 2.3 kg (n=3) or 4.6 kg (n=3) of Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus). Although chylomicron FA signatures resembled diet signatures at all samplings, absolute differences were smallest at 3-h post-feeding, when chylomicrons were likely largest and had the greatest ratio of triacylglycerol to phospholipid FA. Specific FA that differed significantly between diet and chylomicron signatures reflected either input from endogenous sources or loss through peroxisomal β-oxidation. When these aspects of metabolism were accounted for, the quantitative predictions of diet composition generated using chylomicron signatures were extremely accurate, even when tested against 28 other prey items.


Fatty acids Chylomicrons Pinnipeds Diet