Isoscapes pp 299-318 | Cite as

Using Isoscapes to Trace the Movements and Foraging Behavior of Top Predators in Oceanic Ecosystems

  • Brittany S. GrahamEmail author
  • Paul L. Koch
  • Seth D. Newsome
  • Kelton W. McMahon
  • David Aurioles


The stable isotope composition of animal tissues can provide intrinsic tags to study the foraging and migratory ecology of predators in the open ocean. Chapter 13 (this volume) demonstrated that by comparing the isotope values of an animal and its local prey or environment, the animal’s movements can be estimated, given that isotopic variation exists between habitats. The utility of using geographical variations in stable isotopes values, or isoscapes to study the movements of marine predators has been limited because of our lack of knowledge on the spatial variation of the carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen isotope values in the open ocean.

In this chapter, we review the spatial patterns in the carbon and nitrogen values of primary producers in the oceans and broadly discuss mechanisms that set the isotopic composition at the base of marine food webs. We then discuss how spatial patterns in baseline and predator isotope values can be used to examine the movements and foraging behavior in two groups of marine predators, pinnepids and tropical tuna. These two case studies demonstrate that ocean isoscapes are a promising tool to investigate population-level movements and foraging behavior of elusive predators, but this method has limitations and will not achieve the fine-spatial resolution obtained with electronic tags and instrumentation. Furthermore, the construction and application of ocean isoscapes is still in its early development and requires knowledge about the physiology and behavior of the predator, an understanding of the temporal and spatial stability of the isotopic baseline, and validation with independent datasets.


Harbor Seal Elephant Seal Equatorial Pacific Ocean Marine Predator Northern Elephant Seal 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We thank B. Fry, B. Popp, R. Olson, V. Allain, F. Galvan, A. Lorrain, and J. Sibert for invaluable and continual support of the tuna research. Tuna research and BSG were funded by the Cooperative Agreement NA17RJ1230 between the Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research (JIMAR) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to the Pelagic Fisheries Research Program. Marine mammal work was funded by NSF Grants EAR-0000895 and OCE-0345943, as well as by a grant from UCMEXUS.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Brittany S. Graham
    • 1
    • 6
    Email author
  • Paul L. Koch
    • 2
  • Seth D. Newsome
    • 3
  • Kelton W. McMahon
    • 4
  • David Aurioles
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of OceanographyUniversity of Hawai’iHonoluluUSA
  2. 2.Dept. of Earth & Planetary SciencesUniversity of CaliforniaSanta CruzUSA
  3. 3.Geophysical LaboratoryCarnegie Institution of WashingtonWashingtonUSA
  4. 4.MIT-WHOI Joint Program in Biological Oceanography, Woods Hole Oceanographic InstitutionWoods HoleUSA
  5. 5.Centro Interdisciplinario de Ciencias Marinas, Instituto Politécnico NacionalLa Paz Baja California SurMexico
  6. 6.Stable Isotopes in Nature Laboratory (SINLAB), Canadian Rivers InstituteUniversity of New BrunswickFrederictonCanada

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