Polar Biology

, Volume 41, Issue 6, pp 1175–1186 | Cite as

Ontogeny, tissue, and species but not sex influence stable isotopic values of three albatross species

  • Maëlle Connan
  • Bo Bonnevie
  • Christopher McQuaid
Original Paper


The use of indirect dietary markers, including stable isotopes, has immensely improved our knowledge of seabird trophic ecology throughout their annual cycle. Important aspects include differences in trophic niche between adults and chicks at the intra- and inter-specific levels and tissue-dependent differentiation in chicks. Using stable isotopic niche as a proxy for trophic ecology, we investigated how three closely related albatross species co-exist in the sub-Antarctic Prince Edward Islands. The effects of age, sex, tissue, and species on the isotopic niche were observed for Grey-headed Thalassarche chrysostoma, Sooty Phoebetria fusca, and Light-mantled Phoebetria palpebrata Albatrosses breeding on Marion Island. At the end of chick-rearing, carbon and nitrogen stable isotope values differed according to age, tissue, and species but not the sex of either adults or chicks. A complex pattern was revealed as the three species exhibited contrasting results. For example, values for δ13C or δ15N of chick blood could be depleted, enriched or similar relative to that of adults, depending on species. Stable isotope differences between blood and feathers likely reflect differences in their amino acid composition, while adult/chick differences will relate to their different physiological needs and diet. The results indicate that co-existence of the three species on the island is facilitated through resource partitioning among species in terms of foraging areas and in the trophic levels at which adults feed for themselves and their chicks. This work brings new insights into the effect of intrinsic factors on the foraging ecology of marine top predators.


Thalassarche chrysostoma Phoebetria palpebrata Phoebetria fusca Prince Edward Islands Southern Ocean 



The authors thank PG Ryan, MGW Jones, B Dyer, and L Clokie for their valuable advices in the field. Isotope samples were analysed by I Newton at the Stable Light Isotope Laboratory of the University of Cape Town under the supervision of J Lanham. Funding and logistical support was provided by the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism through the South African National Antarctic Program and administered by the National Research Foundation. This work is based on research supported by the South African Research Chairs Initiative of the Department of Science and Technology and the National Research Foundation. The authors thank Prof Piepenburg, Prof Quillfeldt, and an anonymous reviewer for their valuable comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All applicable international guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. All procedures performed during the study were in accordance with the ethical standards of Rhodes University and were undertaken under an ethics clearance granted by its Animal Ethics committee.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Zoology and EntomologyRhodes UniversityGrahamstownSouth Africa
  2. 2.Department of Zoology, Marine Apex Predator Unit, Institute for Coastal and Marine ResearchNelson Mandela UniversityPort ElizabethSouth Africa

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