Stable isotope variation in the northern Gulf of Mexico constrains bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) foraging ranges

Abstract

Site-specific differences were found in consumer isotope values among ten sites examined in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Average δ13C values among sites ranged −21.7 to −15.7 ‰, δ15N ranged <3 ‰: from 9.8 to 11.5 ‰, and δ34S ranged from 5.9 to 18.3 ‰. Isotope variation among these sites provided insight into the ranging habits of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) sampled in St. George Sound (29.8N, 84.6W), a nearshore seagrass habitat, during May of 2005. Isotope comparisons suggest that the majority of dolphins sampled (average ± one standard deviation: δ13C = −17.5 ± 0.8, δ15N = 14.5 ± 0.9, and δ34S = 10.6 ± 1.5) did not forage significantly on offshore species which are significantly 34S-enriched, nor is it likely that they ranged either eastward or westward along the coast within the sampling region. Despite their capability for ranging, these dolphins occupied a restricted home range, during the spring before our sampling efforts. These results demonstrate significant fine-scale isotope variation among coastal habitats explained by differences in freshwater inputs, organic matter loading, and modes of primary production that may be used to constrain the foraging ranges of a highly mobile apex predator.

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Acknowledgments

We are grateful to C.S. Stallings (University of South Florida) and A. Mickle (Florida State University) for assistance with sample collection and analysis, D. McGee (Florida State University) for consultation on the statistics, Y. Xu (National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, Tallahassee, Florida) and B. Harlow (Washington State University) for analytical assistance, and K. Noack (Florida State University) for producing the map of study sites. We also wish to thank R.B. Tyson (Duke University) and two anonymous reviewers whose helpful comments greatly improved the quality of this manuscript. Funding for this project was provided by the Harbor Branch Protect Wild Dolphins Project, by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration via the Northern Gulf Institute, and by the BP/Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Deep-C Consortium administered by Florida State University.

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Communicated by C. Harrod.

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Wilson, R.M., Nelson, J.A., Balmer, B.C. et al. Stable isotope variation in the northern Gulf of Mexico constrains bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) foraging ranges. Mar Biol 160, 2967–2980 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00227-013-2287-4

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Keywords

  • Stable Isotope
  • Sulfur Isotope
  • Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometer
  • Bottlenose Dolphin
  • Domoic Acid