, Volume 178, Issue 2, pp 415–425 | Cite as

Individual specialization in the foraging habits of female bottlenose dolphins living in a trophically diverse and habitat rich estuary

  • Sam RossmanEmail author
  • Peggy H. Ostrom
  • Megan Stolen
  • Nélio B. Barros
  • Hasand Gandhi
  • Craig A. Stricker
  • Randall S. Wells
Population ecology - Original research


We examine individual specialization in foraging habits (foraging habitat and trophic level) of female bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) resident in Sarasota Bay, Florida, USA, by analyzing time series of stable isotope (δ15N and δ13C) values in sequential growth layer groups within teeth. The isotope data provide a chronology of foraging habits over the lifetime of the individual and allowed us to show that female bottlenose dolphins exhibit a high degree of individual specialization in both foraging habitat and trophic level. The foraging habits used by adult females are similar to those they used as calves and may be passed down from mother to calf through social learning. We also characterized the foraging habits and home range of each individual by constructing standard ellipses from isotope values and dolphin sightings data (latitude and longitude), respectively. These data show that Sarasota Bay bottlenose dolphins forage within a subset of the habitats in which they are observed. Moreover, females with similar observational standard ellipses often possessed different foraging specializations. Female bottlenose dolphins may demonstrate individual specialization in foraging habits because it reduces some of the cost of living in groups, such as competition for prey.


Bottlenose dolphin Tursiops truncatus Individual specialization Stable isotopes Individual niche 



We thank the many Mote Marine Laboratory and Chicago Zoological Society staff members, interns, and volunteers who made this work. We especially thank Sarasota Dolphin Research Program staff Jason Allen, Elizabeth Berens McCabe, Krystan Wilkinson, Katie McHugh, Aaron Barleycorn and the Mote Marine Laboratory’s Stranding Investigations Program staff for samples from dolphin carcasses. Samples from dolphins were collected under a series of National Marine Fisheries Service Scientific Research Permits since 1984 and Mote Marine Laboratory IACUC approvals. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship under Grant No. (0802267) as well as Marine Mammal Commission Contract #E4047334. Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the US Government, Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute, Mote Marine Lab, Chicago Zoological Society or Michigan State University.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sam Rossman
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Peggy H. Ostrom
    • 1
  • Megan Stolen
    • 2
  • Nélio B. Barros
    • 3
  • Hasand Gandhi
    • 1
  • Craig A. Stricker
    • 4
  • Randall S. Wells
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Integrative BiologyMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  2. 2.Hubbs-Sea World Research InstituteMelbourne BeachUSA
  3. 3.Sarasota Dolphin Research ProgramChicago Zoological SocietySarasotaUSA
  4. 4.US Geological SurveyFort Collins Science CenterDenverUSA

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