, Volume 145, Issue 4, pp 533-540
Date: 05 Jul 2005

Using stable isotopes to study resource acquisition and allocation in procellariiform seabirds

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Abstract

Some procellariiform seabirds use a dual strategy for provisioning their chicks by alternating short (ST) and long (LT) foraging trips. Parent birds gain mass during LT but they lose mass while increasing the chick feeding frequency during ST. Self-feeding during LT is crucial for the success of ST because firstly most of the energy used during ST is likely to be derived from the energy stored during LT and secondly self-feeding during ST is presumed to be negligible. Self-feeding by adult procellariiforms is thus a key issue to understand allocation processes but it is still poorly known. We tested these predictions by using the stable isotope (δ15N and δ13C) technique on birds’ plasma and prey with the short-tailed shearwater Puffinus tenuirostris breeding at Tasmania as a model. Parent shearwaters returning to the colony after a LT have an Antarctic/subantarctic δ13C signature in their plasma (−23.8‰), thus indicating that they fed in cold waters, far away from their breeding colony, for their own maintenance. Parent birds returning to the colony after a ST also have a distant Antarctic/subantarctic δ13C signature in their plasma (−24.3‰), thus verifying that self-feeding is negligible during ST and that birds fast at that time, using energy stores built up in cold waters. Plasma δ15N values of adults (8.8‰) indicates they mainly prey upon zooplankton-eating organisms, probably mesopelagic myctophid fishes. A simple isotopic mixing model estimates that they consume by mass 87% myctophids and 13% subantarctic krill when self-feeding. Finally and as expected, the carbon isotopic signature of chick plasma (−22.2‰) was intermediate between those of high- and low-latitude marine organisms and is thus in agreement with chicks being fed with a large diversity of prey species caught by adult birds from Antarctic to Tasmanian waters. One main consequence of this system is that reproduction of a Tasmanian species is controlled by resources available at great distances from the breeding colony that drive allocation decisions of parent birds.

Communicated by Roland Brandl