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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 497:243-257 (2014)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps10589

Role of body size in shaping the trophic structure of tropical seabird communities

Patrícia L. Mancini1,2,*, Keith A. Hobson3, Leandro Bugoni1,2

1Laboratório de Aves Aquáticas e Tartarugas Marinhas, Instituto de Ciências Biológicas, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande (FURG), Campus Carreiros, CP 474, 96201-900, Rio Grande, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil
2Pós-graduação em Oceanografia Biológica, Instituto de Oceanografia, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande (FURG), Campus Carreiros, CP 474, 96203-900, Rio Grande, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil
3Environment Canada, 11 Innovation Blvd., Saskatoon, Saskatchewan S7N 3H5, Canada
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Ecological segregation among coexisting seabird species can occur due to morphological and behavioral differences. This segregation is especially important as it reduces competition during the breeding season, when birds are central-place foragers. Furthermore, seasonal variation in oceanographic processes may change prey availability and shape seabird community trophic structure and species isotopic niche. We used stable isotope analyses of seabird whole blood and prey muscle in 5 tropical seabird communities representing 12 species (Charadriiformes, Phaethontiformes, Procellariiformes and Suliformes) inhabiting 5 offshore islands off Brazil from 00°55’N to 20°30’S and 65 to 1160 km from the coast. We evaluated how community trophic structure was correlated with morphology (body mass and bill length), and we verified seasonal variation in isotopic niche in 2 communities. Overall, seabird trophic position (TP) was positively correlated with body size, with frigatebirds and boobies occupying a higher TP than noddies and terns. Structuring of seabird communities according to body size probably occurred due to consumption of prey of different sizes and TP, which contributed to niche segregation by reducing interspecific competition during the breeding season. All species showed isotopic niche segregation at 2 islands, and ~60 to 70% of species segregated at the other islands, except at Atol das Rocas, where 43% of species segregated. Niche overlap occurred mainly among closely related species at Atol das Rocas, Fernando de Noronha and Trindade. The isotopic niche and TP changed across islands for all 3 boobies (red-footed Sula sula, brown S. leucogaster and masked S. dactylatra), brown noddy Anous stolidus and red-billed tropicbird Phaethon aethereus; these factors also changed seasonally in other species, such as in magnificent frigatebird Fregata magnificens, brown booby, both the red-billed P. aethereus and white-tailed P. lepturus tropicbirds and both the brown A. stolidus and black Anous minutus noddies. Such changes probably occurred due to differences in prey availability, opportunistic behavior (e.g. feeding on fishery discards) and/or local foraging and diet specialization.


KEY WORDS: Resource partitioning · Stable isotopes · Isotopic niche · SIBER · Trophic position · Niche overlap · Seasonal variation


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Cite this article as: Mancini PL, Hobson KA, Bugoni L (2014) Role of body size in shaping the trophic structure of tropical seabird communities. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 497:243-257. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps10589

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