Fatty acid evidence for the importance of myctophid fishes in the diet of king penguins, Aptenodytes patagonicus
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- Raclot, T., Groscolas, R. & Cherel, Y. Marine Biology (1998) 132: 523. doi:10.1007/s002270050418
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We tested the usefulness of the fatty acid signature-method in investigating the diet of seabirds in conjunction with the conventional technique of stomach-content analysis. We compared the fatty acid composition of subcutaneous white adipose tissue (SWAT) of king penguin chicks (Aptenodytes patagonicus) during fattening periods to that of total lipids from their food. In both spring and autumn, the fatty acid composition of chick SWAT was identical to that of the dietary lipids. Because the diet of adult king penguins feeding for self-maintenance (i.e. not for their chicks) was essentially unknown, we subsequently analysed their SWAT fatty acid patterns after premolting and prebreeding foraging trips (during which they build up large energy reserves). The fatty acid composition of SWAT from adults was identical to that of chick adipose tissue and food. King penguin diet and SWAT were characterized by high levels of very long-chain mono-unsaturated fatty acids (20 to 24 carbon atoms, 16 to 23% by mass) and (n-3) poly-unsaturated fatty acids (19 to 27%); these consisted mainly of 20:1n-9 (5 to 8%) and 22:1n-11 (5 to 8%), and 22:6n-3 (10 to 13%) and 20:5n-3 (3 to 9%), respectively. Prey items identified from chick stomach contents indicated that the bulk of the food was oceanic myctophid fishes, mainly Electrona carlbergi, Krefftichthys anderssoni and Protomyctophum tenisoni. The fatty acid composition of four other species of myctophid fishes was similar to that of penguin diet and SWAT, but markedly different from that measured for a squid species and that reported for crustaceans. These findings indicate that adult king penguins prey on myctophid fish not only to feed their chicks but also for their own nutrition. The fatty acid signature-technique is therefore a reliable method to gain information on the food and feeding ecology of seabirds when more conventional techniques are of limited value. Such information is important to the understanding of trophic relationships between key species of the ecosystems, and also to provide insight into the nature of avian adaptations to the marine environment.