, Volume 180, Issue 3, pp 631–644 | Cite as

Spatial and temporal variation of an ice-adapted predator’s feeding ecology in a changing Arctic marine ecosystem

  • David J. YurkowskiEmail author
  • Steven H. Ferguson
  • Christina A. D. Semeniuk
  • Tanya M. Brown
  • Derek C. G. Muir
  • Aaron T. Fisk
Highlighted Student Research


Spatial and temporal variation can confound interpretations of relationships within and between species in terms of diet composition, niche size, and trophic position (TP). The cause of dietary variation within species is commonly an ontogenetic niche shift, which is a key dynamic influencing community structure. We quantified spatial and temporal variations in ringed seal (Pusa hispida) diet, niche size, and TP during ontogeny across the Arctic—a rapidly changing ecosystem. Stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis was performed on 558 liver and 630 muscle samples from ringed seals and on likely prey species from five locations ranging from the High to the Low Arctic. A modest ontogenetic diet shift occurred, with adult ringed seals consuming more forage fish (approximately 80 versus 60 %) and having a higher TP than subadults, which generally decreased with latitude. However, the degree of shift varied spatially, with adults in the High Arctic presenting a more restricted niche size and consuming more Arctic cod (Boreogadus saida) than subadults (87 versus 44 %) and adults at the lowest latitude (29 %). The TPs of adult and subadult ringed seals generally decreased with latitude (4.7–3.3), which was mainly driven by greater complexity in trophic structure within the zooplankton communities. Adult isotopic niche size increased over time, likely due to the recent circumpolar increases in subarctic forage fish distribution and abundance. Given the spatial and temporal variability in ringed seal foraging ecology, ringed seals exhibit dietary plasticity as a species, suggesting adaptability in terms of their diet to climate change.


Arctic Ontogenetic niche shift Ringed seal Stable isotopes Trophic position 



We thank the Hunters and Trappers Associations and Organizations around the Canadian Arctic and their hunters for collecting seal samples. In addition, we thank B. Dunn, L. Harwood, H. Cleator, S. Atchison, and A. Gaden for sample collection and preparation. We thank B. Charron, J. Laramie, S. Isaac, A. Tanner, and especially A. Hussey for stable isotope analysis in the Chemical Tracers Lab at the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research at the University of Windsor. We thank Helene Marsh, Sam Rossman and an anonymous reviewer for comments that considerably improved this manuscript. This study was supported by funding from NSERC-Ocean Tracking Network, NSERC-Discovery, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Government of Nunavut, and ArcticNet to ATF and SHF, as well as The Northern Contaminants Program of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada to DCGM and TMB, and University of Windsor, Ontario Graduate Scholarships, and The W. Garfield Weston Foundation to DJY.

Author contribution statement

DY, SF, and AF conceived and designed the study. DY and CS performed the statistical analysis. DY, SF, AF, TB, and DM were involved in sample collection. DY wrote the manuscript, with SF, CS, TB, DM, and AF contributing editorial advice.

Supplementary material

442_2015_3384_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (241 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 241 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • David J. Yurkowski
    • 1
    Email author
  • Steven H. Ferguson
    • 2
  • Christina A. D. Semeniuk
    • 1
  • Tanya M. Brown
    • 3
  • Derek C. G. Muir
    • 4
  • Aaron T. Fisk
    • 1
  1. 1.Great Lakes Institute for Environmental ResearchUniversity of WindsorWindsorCanada
  2. 2.Freshwater InstituteFisheries and Oceans CanadaWinnipegCanada
  3. 3.Department of Biochemistry and MicrobiologyUniversity of VictoriaVictoriaCanada
  4. 4.Aquatic Ecosystem Protection Research DivisionEnvironment CanadaBurlingtonCanada

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