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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 424:247-258 (2011)  -  DOI:

Diet of juvenile southern elephant seals reappraised by stable isotopes in whiskers

China Newland1,*, Iain C. Field1,2, Yves Cherel3, Christophe Guinet3, Corey J. A. Bradshaw4,5, Clive R. McMahon1,6, Mark A. Hindell1

1Antarctic Wildlife Research Unit, School of Zoology, University of Tasmania, PO Box 252-05, Hobart, TAS 7001, Australia
2Marine Mammal Research Group, Graduate School of the Environment, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW 2109, Australia
3Centre d’Etudes Biologiques de Chizé, UPR 1934 du CNRS, BP 14, 79360 Villiers-en-Bois, France
4The Environment Institute and School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia 5005, Australia
5South Australian Research and Development Institute, PO Box 120, Henley Beach, South Australia 5022, Australia
6School for Environmental Research, Charles Darwin University, Casuarina Campus, Darwin, Northern Territory
0909, Australia

ABSTRACT: Declines in marine predator populations have been attributed to anthropogenic activity and environmental change. Southern elephant seals Mirounga leonina are major consumers of biomass in the eastern region of the Southern Ocean and have been declining in numbers since the 1960s. Previous studies have identified evidence for habitat and diet partitioning over a range of spatial and temporal scales between juveniles and adults in the Macquarie Island population. We first analysed the stable isotopes (SI) of 6 entire vibrissae from a dead adult female southern elephant seal from Kerguelen Islands to determine moult and growth patterns. Secondly we analysed the SI from the vibrissae of 102 juvenile southern elephant seals to investigate diet. The results from the growth pattern analysis indicated that vibrissae do not grow or moult simultaneously. However, it is likely that at least part of the vibrissae will have been produced sometime during the most recent trip to sea and will give a broad indication of diet. The subsequent SI analysis confirmed that juveniles are consuming greater proportions of fish species, and identified myctophids as the primary component of juvenile diet. Myctophids are also consumed by king penguins Aptenodytes patagonicus which have greatly increased in numbers recently in the Macquarie Island area. This may have presented the juvenile southern elephant seals with increased competition and may influence survival.

KEY WORDS: Stable isotopes · Vibrissae growth patterns · Diet · Fish · Squid · Resource partitioning · Inter-specific competition

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Cite this article as: Newland C, Field IC, Cherel Y, Guinet C, Bradshaw CJA, McMahon CR, Hindell MA (2011) Diet of juvenile southern elephant seals reappraised by stable isotopes in whiskers. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 424:247-258.

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