Stable isotope dynamics in elasmobranch fishes
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Carbon and nitrogen stable isotope analyses have improved our understanding of food webs and movement patterns of aquatic organisms. These techniques have recently been applied to diet studies of elasmobranch fishes, but isotope turnover rates and isotope diet–tissue discrimination are still poorly understood for this group. We performed a diet switch experiment on captive sandbar sharks (Carcharhinus plumbeus) as a model shark species to determine tissue turnover rates for liver, whole blood, and white muscle. In a second experiment, we subjected captive coastal skates (Leucoraja spp.) to serial salinity reductions to measure possible impacts of tissue urea content on nitrogen stable isotope values. We extracted urea from spiny dogfish (Squalus acanthias) white muscle to test for effects on nitrogen stable isotopes. Isotope turnover was slow for shark tissues and similar to previously published estimates for stingrays and teleost fishes with low growth rates. Muscle isotope data would likely fail to capture seasonal migrations or diet switches in sharks, while liver and whole blood would more closely reflect shorter term movement or shifts in diet. Nitrogen stable isotope values of skate blood and skate and dogfish white muscle were not affected by tissue urea content, suggesting that available diet–tissue discrimination estimates for teleost fishes with similar physiologies would provide accurate estimates for elasmobranchs.