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Metabarcoding, stables isotopes, and tracking: unraveling the trophic ecology of a winter-breeding storm petrel (Hydrobates castro) with a multimethod approach


Detailed information on diet and foraging ecology is scarce for most small seabirds such as storm petrels. In this study, we used molecular techniques, stable isotope analysis, and geolocators to study the diet, trophic ecology, and at-sea distribution of Madeiran storm petrels (Hydrobates castro) breeding in Farilhões Islet, Portugal, in 2015–2017. The diet of Madeiran storm petrels was dominated by fish for both sexes and study years, with Gadidae representing the main prey family. In 2017, females also fed on Aulopiformes, Stomiiformes and Myctophiformes, which were not identified in the other groups, suggesting some degree of inter-annual and intersexual plasticity in their diet. The carbon isotopic ratios of birds during 2017 were significantly higher when compared to 2015, which might be related to foraging near coastal areas in 2017. Indeed, tracking data for 2017 show that birds foraged near the colony and near the West African coast. Overall, both sexes of this species exhibited a similar trophic ecology and diet during the breeding season. However, intersexual differences occurred during the non-breeding season, when females showed significantly lower nitrogen isotopic ratios than males (in 2016), and the lowest niche overlap between sexes occurred. This, together with the fact that environmental conditions appeared less favourable in 2016 suggests that intersexual differences in the foraging ecology of this species may be related with environmental conditions.

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To all volunteers and colleagues who collaborate during the fieldwork. To Berlengas Natural Reserve—Portuguese Institute for Nature Conservation and Forests and the Portuguese Maritime Authority by provide transport and accommodation from Peniche to Farilhão Islet. To captaincy of Peniche and RNB-ICNF. We thank the reviewers that contributed significantly to the improvement of the manuscript.


Fieldwork financial support was provided by project LIFE13 NAT/PT/000458 co-funded by the LIFE Program of European Commission and Fundo Ambiental grant from the Portuguese Government. This research was co-sponsored by the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT; Portugal) and the European Social Fund (POPH,EU) through post-doctoral grants to V.H.P. (SFRH/BPD/85024/2012) and the strategic program of MARE (MARE—UID/MAR/04292/2019).

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Correspondence to Ana Rita Carreiro.

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All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. All animal handling and procedures in this research were duly approved and licensed by permits from the Portuguese Institute for Nature Conservation and Forests (Licenses number 174/2015, 8/2016, 177/2016 and 494/2016/CAPT), which follow the European Union Directive on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes (Directive 2010/63/EU) and Portuguese laws No. 140/99, No. 49/2005, No. 316/89, and No. 180/2008. Documentary evidence available under request.

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Carreiro, A.R., Paiva, V.H., Medeiros, R. et al. Metabarcoding, stables isotopes, and tracking: unraveling the trophic ecology of a winter-breeding storm petrel (Hydrobates castro) with a multimethod approach. Mar Biol 167, 14 (2020).

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