, Volume 161, Issue 1, pp 149–159 | Cite as

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

  • Carlos Martínez del RioEmail author
  • Pablo Sabat
  • Richard Anderson-Sprecher
  • Sandra P. Gonzalez
Community ecology - Original Paper


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.


Cinclodes Niche width Stable isotopes Trophic niche Stable nitrogen isotope ratio 



This work was financed by Fondo Nacional de Desarrollo Cientıfico y Tecnologico (Chile proyecto no. 1010647) to P. Sabat and an NSF grant to C. Martínez del Rio (IBN-0114016). We are thankful to Y. Cherel, K. Fox-Dobbs, S. Newsome, and two anonymous reviewers for constructive criticisms. C. Martínez del Rio and P. Sabat also thank R. E. Los Vascos for inspiration.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carlos Martínez del Rio
    • 1
    Email author
  • Pablo Sabat
    • 3
    • 4
  • Richard Anderson-Sprecher
    • 2
  • Sandra P. Gonzalez
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Zoology and PhysiologyUniversity of WyomingLaramieUSA
  2. 2.Department of StatisticsUniversity of WyomingLaramieUSA
  3. 3.Departamento de Ciencias Ecológicas, Facultad de CienciasUniversidad de ChileSantiagoChile
  4. 4.Facultad de Ciencias Biológicas, Center for Advanced Studies in Ecology and BiodiversityPontificia Universidad Católica de ChileSantiagoChile

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