Isotopic ecology of coyotes from scat and road kill carcasses: A complementary approach to feeding experiments.
ABSTRACT: Scat is frequently used to study animal diets because it is easy to find and collect, but one concern is that gross fecal analysis (GFA) techniques exaggerate the importance of small-bodied prey to mammalian mesopredator diets. To capitalize on the benefits of scat, we suggest the analysis of scat carbon and nitrogen isotope values (?13C and ?15N). This technique offers researchers a non-invasive method to gather short-term dietary information. We conducted three interrelated studies to validate the use of isotopic values from coyote scat: 1) we determined tissue-to-tissue apparent C and N isotope enrichment factors (?13* and ?15*) for coyotes from road kill animals (n = 4); 2) we derived diet-to-scat isotope discrimination factors for coyotes; and 3) we used field collected coyote scats (n = 12) to compare estimates of coyote dietary proportions from stable isotope mixing models with estimates from two GFA techniques. Scat consistently had the lowest ?13C and ?15N values among the tissues sampled. We derived a diet-to-scat ?13C value of -1.5‰ ± 1.6‰ and ?15N value of 2.3‰ ± 1.3‰ for coyotes. Coyote scat ?13C and ?15N values adjusted for discrimination consistently plot within the isotopic mixing space created by known dietary items. In comparison with GFA results, we found that mixing model estimates of coyote dietary proportions de-emphasize the importance of small-bodied prey. Coyote scat ?13C and ?15N values therefore offer a relatively quick and non-invasive way to gain accurate dietary information.
Project description:BACKGROUND:Resolving the preferred prey items and dietary proportions of leopard seals is central to understanding food-web dynamics in the rapidly-warming Antarctic Peninsula region. Previous studies have identified a wide range of prey items; however, due to anecdotal or otherwise limited information, leopard seal diets remain unresolved by seal sex, individual, body size, region, and season. Over the 2013, 2014, and 2017 field seasons we collected scat, tissue samples (red blood cells and plasma; n?=?23) for stable isotope analyses, and previously-reported animal-borne video from 19 adult leopard seals foraging near mesopredator breeding colonies at Cape Shirreff, Livingston Island. We summarized a priori diet information from scat and video analysis and applied a three-isotope (?13C, ?15N, ?34S), four-source (fish, fur seal, krill, penguin) Bayesian mixing model to examine temporal variability in both prey sources and leopard seal tissues. RESULTS:The austral spring diets of males and females focused on Antarctic krill (31.7-38.0%), notothen fish (31.6-36.5%), and penguin (24.4-26.9%) and were consistent across all 3 years. Several lines of evidence suggest the transition to summer foraging was distinct for males and females. Female diets transitioned rapidly to higher ?15N values (+2.1‰), indicating increased consumption of penguin (29.5-46.2%) and energy-dense Antarctic fur seal pup (21.3-37.6%). CONCLUSIONS:The seasonal increase in leopard seal ?15N values, and thus fur seal in their diet, was predictably related to larger body size; it may also be forcing reductions to the largest Antarctic fur seal colony in the Antarctic Peninsula. Our ensemble sampling approach reduces historical biases in monitoring marine apex predator diets. Further, our results are necessary to best inform regional fisheries management planning.
Project description:There is limited information that provides a comprehensive understanding of the trophic ecology of Mexican Pacific harbor seal (Phoca vitulina richardii) colonies. While scat analysis has been used to determine the diet of some colonies, the integrative characterization of its feeding habits on broader temporal and spatial scales remains limited. We examined potential feeding grounds, trophic niche width, and overlap, and inferred the degree of dietary specialization using stable carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios (?13C and ?15N) in this subspecies. We analyzed ?13C and ?15N on fur samples from pups collected at five sites along the western coast of the Baja California Peninsula, Mexico. Fur of natal coat of Pacific harbor seal pups begins to grow during the seventh month in utero until the last stage of gestation. Therefore pup fur is a good proxy for the mother's feeding habits in winter (~December to March), based on the timing of gestation for the subspecies in this region. Our results indicated that the ?13C and ?15N values differed significantly among sampling sites, with the highest mean ?15N value occurring at the southernmost site, reflecting a well-characterized north to south latitudinal 15N-enrichment in the food web. The tendency identified in ?13C values, in which the northern colonies showed the most enriched values, suggests nearshore and benthic-demersal feeding habits. A low variance in ?13C and ?15N values for each colony (<1‰) and relatively small standard ellipse areas suggest a specialized foraging behavior in adult female Pacific harbor seals in Mexican waters.
Project description:An extensive ecological literature applies stable isotope mixing models to derive quantitative dietary reconstructions from isotope ratios of consumer tissues. While this approach works well for some organisms, it is challenging for consumers with complex, varied diets, including humans; indeed, many archaeologists have avoided the use of mixing models because uncertainties in model outputs are sufficiently large that the findings are not helpful in understanding ancient lifeways. Here, we exploit an unparalleled opportunity to evaluate the feasibility of dietary quantification in a nutritionally and isotopically complex context on the Cape Peninsula, South Africa. Delta values (?13C and ?15N) of 213 indigenous food samples enable us to characterise four food groups: terrestrial plants, terrestrial vertebrates, marine invertebrates and marine vertebrates. A recent study of baboons that consumed marine and terrestrial foods provides insight into the relationship between such foods and consumer tissue isotopes. We use this information to refine our interpretation of ?15N and especially ?13C in bone collagen from 35 archaeological hunter-gatherers, achieving better estimates of the relative importance of marine and terrestrial foods in the diet than has hitherto been possible. Based on Bayesian stable isotope mixing model (SIMM) outputs, we infer that the trophic enrichment factor (TEF) for ?13Cbone collagen in these coastal humans is closer to +3 than +5‰. In the most 13C- and 15N-rich individuals, 65-98% of bone collagen (95% credible intervals) derived from marine foods. Conversely, in 13C and 15N-poor individuals, 7-44% of bone collagen derived from marine foods. The uncertainties discussed here highlight the need for caution when implementing SIMMs in studies of consumers with complex diets. To our knowledge, this work constitutes the most detailed and most tightly constrained study of this problem to date.
Project description:Urban environments are unique because fragments of natural or semi-natural habitat are embedded within a potentially permeable matrix of human-dominated areas, creating increased landscape and, potentially, habitat heterogeneity. In addition, urban areas can provide diet subsidies for wildlife species in the form of fruiting ornamental plants, trash, and domestic animals. Ecological opportunity in the forms of habitat and food heterogeneity are thought to be important mechanisms in maintaining individual specialization. Identifying which contexts, traits, and mechanisms determine the success or failure of individuals within an urban wildlife population could potentially provide predictions about which populations may succeed in human-dominated landscapes and which may experience local extinction. We used both scat and stable isotope analysis of whiskers to investigate the degree to which coyotes (Canis latrans) utilized anthropogenic subsidies and exhibited individual diet specialization across the urban-rural gradient in southern California. Land use surrounding scat and isotope sample locations was also evaluated to determine the effect of land cover on diet. Human food constituted a significant portion of urban coyote diet (22% of scats, 38% of diet estimated by stable isotope analysis). Domestic cats (Felis catus) and ornamental fruit and seeds were also important items in urban coyote diets. Consumption of anthropogenic items decreased with decreasing urbanization. In suburban areas, seasonality influenced the frequency of occurrence of anthropogenic subsidies with increased consumption in the dry season. The amount of altered open space (areas such as golf courses, cemeteries, and landscaped parks) nearby had a negative effect on the consumption of anthropogenic items in both urban and suburban areas. Contrary to our hypothesis, urban coyotes displayed reduced between-individual variation compared to suburban and rural coyotes. It is possible that the core urban areas of cities are so densely developed and subsidized that wildlife inhabiting these areas actually have reduced ecological opportunity. Suburban animals had the broadest isotopic niches and maintained similar individual specialization to rural coyotes. Wildlife in suburban areas still have access to relatively undisturbed natural areas while being able to take advantage of anthropogenic subsidies in neighboring residential areas. Therefore, areas with intermediate urban development may be associated with increased ecological opportunity and specialization.
Project description:A temporal change in the stable isotope (SI) composition of jellyfish in the Kiel Fjord, Western Baltic Sea, was documented by analyzing ?13C, ?15N and ?34S of bell tissue of Aurelia aurita and Cyanea capillata in the period between June and October 2011. A strong and significant temporal change in all SI values of A. aurita was found, including an increase of ~3 ‰ in ?13C, a decrease of ~4 ‰ in ?15N and sharp decline of ~7 ‰ in ?34S. While knowledge gaps in jellyfish isotope ecology, in particular the lack of reliable trophic enrichment factors, call for a conservative interpretation of our data, observed changes in particular in ?34S, as indicated by means of a MixSIR mixing model, would be consistent with a temporal dietary shift in A. aurita from mesozooplankton (>150 µm) to microplankton and small re-suspended particles (0.8-20 µm) from the benthos. Presence of a hitherto unidentified food source not included in the model could also contribute to the shift. During the 2-month occurrence of C. capillata, its isotope composition remained stable and was consistent with a mainly mesozooplanktonic diet. Mixing model output, mainly driven by ?34S values, indicated a lower proportion of A. aurita in the diet of C. capillata than previously reported, and thus to a potentially lesser importance of intraguild predation among jellyfish in the Kiel Fjord. Overall, our results clearly highlighted the potential for substantial intraspecific isotopic seasonal variation in jellyfish, which should be taken into account in future feeding ecology studies on this group.
Project description:Knowing the migratory movements and behaviour of baleen whales is fundamental to understanding their ecology. We compared ?15N and ?13C values in the skin of blue (Balaenoptera musculus), fin (Balaenoptera physalus) and sei (Balaenoptera borealis) whales sighted in the Azores in spring with the values of potential prey from different regions within the North Atlantic using Bayesian mixing models to investigate their trophic ecology and migration patterns. Fin whale ?15N values were higher than those recorded in blue and sei whales, reflecting feeding at higher trophic levels. Whales' skin ?15N and ?13C values did not reflect prey from high-latitude summer foraging grounds; instead mixing models identified tropical or subtropical regions as the most likely feeding areas for all species during winter and spring. Yet, differences in ?13C values among whale species suggest use of different regions within this range. Blue and sei whales primarily used resources from the Northwest African upwelling and pelagic tropical/subtropical regions, while fin whales fed off Iberia. However, determining feeding habitats from stable isotope values remains difficult. In conclusion, winter feeding appears common among North Atlantic blue, fin and sei whales, and may play a crucial role in determining their winter distribution. A better understanding of winter feeding behaviour is therefore fundamental for the effective conservation of these species.
Project description:The major components of human diet both past and present may be estimated by measuring the carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios (?13C and ?15N) of the collagenous proteins in bone and tooth dentine. However, the results from these two tissues differ substantially: bone collagen records a multi-year average whilst primary dentine records and retains time-bound isotope ratios deriving from the period of tooth development. Recent studies harnessing a sub-annual temporal sampling resolution have shed new light on the individual dietary histories of our ancestors by identifying unexpected radical short-term dietary changes, the duration of breastfeeding and migration where dietary change occurs, and by raising questions regarding factors other than diet that may impact on ?13C and ?15N values. Here we show that the dentine ?13C and ?15N profiles of workhouse inmates dating from the Great Irish Famine of the 19th century not only record the expected dietary change from C3 potatoes to C4 maize, but when used together they also document prolonged nutritional and other physiological stress resulting from insufficient sustenance. In the adults, the influence of the maize-based diet is seen in the ?13C difference between dentine (formed in childhood) and rib (representing an average from the last few years of life). The demonstrated effects of stress on the ?13C and ?15N values will have an impact on the interpretations of diet in past populations even in slow-turnover tissues such as compact bone. This technique also has applicability in the investigation of modern children subject to nutritional distress where hair and nails are unavailable or do not record an adequate period of time.
Project description:Past research indicates that whitebark pine seeds are a critical food source for Threatened grizzly bears (Ursus arctos) in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE). In recent decades, whitebark pine forests have declined markedly due to pine beetle infestation, invasive blister rust, and landscape-level fires. To date, no study has reliably estimated the contribution of whitebark pine seeds to the diets of grizzlies through time. We used stable isotope ratios (expressed as ?13C, ?15N, and ?34S values) measured in grizzly bear hair and their major food sources to estimate the diets of grizzlies sampled in Cooke City Basin, Montana. We found that stable isotope mixing models that included different combinations of stable isotope values for bears and their foods generated similar proportional dietary contributions. Estimates generated by our top model suggest that whitebark pine seeds (35±10%) and other plant foods (56±10%) were more important than meat (9±8%) to grizzly bears sampled in the study area. Stable isotope values measured in bear hair collected elsewhere in the GYE and North America support our conclusions about plant-based foraging. We recommend that researchers consider model selection when estimating the diets of animals using stable isotope mixing models. We also urge researchers to use the new statistical framework described here to estimate the dietary responses of grizzlies to declines in whitebark pine seeds and other important food sources through time in the GYE (e.g., cutthroat trout), as such information could be useful in predicting how the population will adapt to future environmental change.
Project description:Stable isotope analysis (SIA) is an important tool for investigation of animal dietary habits for determination of feeding niche. Ideally, fresh samples should be used for isotopic analysis, but logistics frequently demands preservation of organisms for analysis at a later time. The goal of this study was to establish the best methodology for preserving forest litter-dwelling crickets for later SIA analysis without altering results. We collected two cricket species, Phoremia sp. and Mellopsis doucasae, from which we prepared 70 samples per species, divided among seven treatments: (i) freshly processed (control); preserved in fuel ethanol for (ii) 15 and (iii) 60 days; preserved in commercial ethanol for (iv) 15 and (v) 60 days; fresh material frozen for (vi) 15 and (vii) 60 days. After oven drying, samples were analyzed for ?15N, ?13C values, N(%), C(%) and C/N atomic values using continuous flow isotope ratio mass spectrometry. All preservation methods tested, significantly impacted ?13C and ?15N and C/N atomic values. Chemical preservatives caused ?13C enrichment as great as 1.5‰, and ?15N enrichment as great as 0.9‰; the one exception was M. doucasae stored in ethanol for 15 days, which had ?15N depletion up to 1.8‰. Freezing depleted ?13C and ?15N by up to 0.7 and 2.2‰, respectively. C/N atomic values decreased when stored in ethanol, and increased when frozen for 60 days for both cricket species. Our results indicate that all preservation methods tested in this study altered at least one of the tested isotope values when compared to fresh material (controls). We conclude that only freshly processed material provides adequate SIA results for litter-dwelling crickets.
Project description:This study seeks to understand how humans impact the dietary patterns of eight free-ranging vervet monkey (Chlorocebus pygerythrus) groups in South Africa using stable isotope analysis. Vervets are omnivores that exploit a wide range of habitats including those that have been anthropogenically-disturbed. As humans encroach upon nonhuman primate landscapes, human-nonhuman primate interconnections become increasingly common, which has led to the rise of the field of ethnoprimatology. To date, many ethnoprimatological studies have examined human-nonhuman primate associations largely in qualitative terms. By using stable carbon (?13C) and nitrogen (?15N) isotope analysis, we use quantitative data to understand the degree to which humans impact vervet monkey dietary patterns. Based on initial behavioral observations we placed the eight groups into three categories of anthropogenic disturbance (low, mid, and high). Using ?13C and ?15N values we estimated the degree to which each group and each anthropogenically-disturbed category was consuming C4 plants (primarily sugar cane, corn, or processed foods incorporating these crops). ?13C values were significantly different between groups and categories of anthropogenic-disturbance. ?15N values were significantly different at the group level. The two vervet groups with the highest consumption of C4 plants inhabited small nature reserves, appeared to interact with humans only sporadically, and were initially placed in the mid level of anthropogenic-disturbance. However, further behavioral observations revealed that the high ?13C values exhibited by these groups were linked to previously unseen raiding of C4 crops. By revealing these cryptic feeding patterns, this study illustrates the utility of stable isotopes analysis for some ethnoprimatological questions.