, Volume 161, Issue 1, pp 149-159
Date: 08 May 2009

Dietary and isotopic specialization: the isotopic niche of three Cinclodes ovenbirds

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Abstract

By comparing the isotopic composition of tissues deposited at different times, we can identify individuals that shift diets over time and individuals with constant diets. We define an individual as an isotopic specialist if tissues deposited at different times have similar isotopic composition. If tissues deposited at different times differ in isotopic composition we define an individual as an isotopic generalist. Individuals can be dietary generalists but isotopic specialists if they feed on the same resource mixture at all times. We assessed the degree of isotopic and dietary specialization in three related Chilean bird species that occupy coastal and/or freshwater environments: Cinclodes oustaleti, Cinclodes patagonicus, and Cinclodes nigrofumosus. C. oustaleti individuals were both isotopic and dietary generalists. Tissues deposited in winter (liver and muscle) had distinct stable C (δ13C) and stable N isotope ratio (δ15N) values from tissues deposited in the summer (wing feathers) suggesting that birds changed the resources that they used seasonally from freshwater habitats in the summer to coastal habitats in the winter. Although the magnitude of seasonal isotopic change was high, the direction of isotopic change varied little among individuals. C. patagonicus included both isotopic specialists and generalists, as well as dietary specialists and generalists. The isotopic composition of the feathers and liver of some C. patagonicus individuals was similar, whereas that of others differed. In C. patagonicus, there were large inter-individual differences in the magnitude and the direction of seasonal isotopic change. All individuals of C. nigrofumosus were both isotopic and dietary specialists. The distribution of δ13C and δ15N values overlapped broadly among tissues and clustered in a small, and distinctly intertidal, region of δ space. Assessing individual specialization and unraveling the factors that influence it, have been key questions in animal ecology for decades. Stable isotope analyses of several tissues in appropriate study systems provide an unparalleled opportunity to answer them.

Communicated by Elisabeth Kalko.