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Using stable isotope analysis with telemetry or mark-recapture data to identify fish movement and foraging

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Abstract

Information about animal movements has often been inferred from stable isotope analysis (SIA), but is dependent on animals assimilating site-specific isotopic signatures via diet. This potential weakness in ecological interpretation can be overcome by using other investigative tools that provide precise information about individual movement patterns. In this paper, we demonstrate the value of combining SIA with telemetry or mark-recapture data from trapping, electrofishing and remote detection of individuals to study the movement and feeding ecology of fishes in different habitats. In a fjord lake system in Newfoundland, Canada, juvenile Atlantic salmon delayed downstream migration (smolts) or actively moved into a large lake (parr) where they foraged for periods reflecting different life history strategies. In the Miramichi River (New Brunswick, Canada), SIA provided evidence of distinct foraging habitats (tributary versus large river). By tracking fish implanted with passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags, we distinguished between movements related to foraging versus seeking cool water refugia during high temperature events. Finally, site fidelity and limited mobility of slimy sculpin, a small benthic fish, was established where δ13C in muscle tissue showed a progressive enrichment downstream and where a median displacement of <10 m was estimated for sculpin tagged with PIT tags. Technological improvements have permitted non-destructive tissue sampling of wild fishes for SIA, and the tagging and remote detection of animals smaller than was previously possible. These advancements and the combination of investigative tools promise new insights into animal ecology.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to the following individuals and agencies: R. Doucett, A. McGeachy, M. Savoie, C. Paton for lab analyses; the Catamaran Brook crew (especially A. Fraser), V. Bujold, and technicians and students from the Canadian Rivers Institute for field assistance. Funding was provided by the Natural Sciences and Engineering and Research Council, the Canada Research Chairs program, and Parks Canada (to RAC); la Mission des Relations Internationales (INRA) to JMR; and, the Toxic Substances Research Initiative (TSRI) to KRM. Contribution no. 79 of the Catamaran Brook research project.

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Correspondence to R. A. Cunjak.

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Communicated by Jim Ehleringer

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Cunjak, R.A., Roussel, JM., Gray, M.A. et al. Using stable isotope analysis with telemetry or mark-recapture data to identify fish movement and foraging. Oecologia 144, 636–646 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-005-0101-9

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