MEPS prepress abstract  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12381

Combining hard-part and DNA analyses in scats with biologging and stable isotopes can reveal different diet compositions and feeding strategies within a population

T. Jeanniard-du-Dot*, A. C. Thomas, Y. Cherel, A. W. Trites, C. Guinet

*Email: tiphainejdd@gmail.com

ABSTRACT: Accurately estimating predators’ diets at relevant spatial and temporal scales is key to understanding animals’ energetics and fitness, particularly in populations whose decline might be related to their diet such as northern fur seals (Callorhinus ursinus). Our goals were to improve the accuracy of diet estimates and extend our ecological understanding of feeding ecology by combining two scat-based methods of diet determination – hard-part identification and DNA-metabarcoding – with stable isotope measurements and behavioural data of individuals. We collected 98 scats on a northern fur seal breeding colony. We also tracked 20 females with biologgers, and took blood samples to determine δ13C and δ15N values as proxies for seal foraging habitat and diet. Results show that diet composition from hard-parts analysis corresponded well with DNA results, with DNA yielding a greater diversity of prey species at a finer taxonomic level. Overall, scat-based methods showed that seals mostly fed on neritic shelf-associated prey. Cluster analyses of combined hard-parts and DNA results however identified two diet groups, one mostly neritic and the other mostly pelagic. Stable isotopes and behavioural data revealed that 40% of seals fed in oceanic waters on pelagic prey, more than indicated by scat-based analyses which are likely biased towards animals foraging closest to the colony and underestimate some dietary specializations within the population. Consequently, the combination of multiple methods for diet identification with at-sea tracking of individuals can help identify and quantify specialist groups within a population and provide a wider spatial and temporal ecological context for dietary analysis.