AB 9:13-22 (2010)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/ab00225

Seasonal shift in the foraging niche of Atlantic puffins Fratercula arctica revealed by stable isotope (δ15N and δ13C) analyses

April Hedd1,*, David A. Fifield1,2, Chantelle M. Burke1, William A. Montevecchi1, Laura McFarlane Tranquilla1, Paul M. Regular1, Alejandro D. Buren1, Gregory J. Robertson3

1Cognitive and Behavioural Ecology, Psychology Department, Memorial University, St. John’s, Newfoundland A1C 3X9, Canada
2Canadian Wildlife Service and 3Science and Technology Section, Environment Canada, 6 Bruce St., Mount Pearl, Newfoundland A1N 4T3, Canada
*Email:

ABSTRACT: We measured tissue stable nitrogen (δ15N) and carbon (δ13C) values to investigate the extent of seasonal and age-related variation in the foraging ecology of Atlantic puffins. For adults, there was considerable seasonal variation in the foraging niche. A generalized, lower trophic level (TL) diet during the winter moult was replaced by a highly specialized, higher TL diet during summer when birds were rearing chicks. The seasonal δ15N enrichment of 2.36‰ is consistent with an increase of 0.65 TL. Output from a 2-source single isotope (δ15N) mixing model suggested that adult diets were composed largely of zooplankton during winter with a switch to capelin (or other higher TL prey) in summer. A concurrent decrease in δ15N variability suggests that adult diets are more varied in winter. Trophic position of first-year birds was similar across summer and fall, as they went from being provisioned by parents at the colony to feeding independently. Both isotope mixing model and stomach contents analysis suggested that first-year birds relied largely (>85%) on capelin (or other higher TL fish) in fall. In summer, the trophic position of adults was significantly higher than that of nestlings; however, greater δ15N variability suggested that nestling diet was mixed overall. Shipboard surveys indicated an offshore movement of puffins post-breeding; however, this distributional shift was not reflected in δ13C signatures of adults. The dietary shift and increased TL of adult Atlantic puffins from winter to summer is consistent with reports for puffin species in the Pacific, suggesting that puffins may undergo the most extensive seasonal trophic shift among the auk species.


KEY WORDS: Seasonal diet shift · Winter diet · Stable isotope analysis · δ15N · δ13C · Trophic level · Fratercula arctica


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Cite this article as: Hedd A, Fifield DA, Burke CM, Montevecchi WA and others (2010) Seasonal shift in the foraging niche of Atlantic puffins Fratercula arctica revealed by stable isotope (δ15N and δ13C) analyses. Aquat Biol 9:13-22. https://doi.org/10.3354/ab00225

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