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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 652:173-186 (2020)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13482

Foraging ecology of the common dolphin Delphinus delphis revealed by stable isotope analysis

Katharina J. Peters1,2,*, Sarah J. Bury3, Emma L. Betty1, Guido J. Parra4, Gabriela Tezanos-Pinto1,5, Karen A. Stockin1

1Cetacean Ecology Research Group, School of Natural and Computational Sciences, Massey University, Auckland 0745, New Zealand
2Global Ecology, College of Science and Engineering, Flinders University, Adelaide 5001, South Australia
3National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, Greta Point, 301 Evans Bay Parade, Hataitai, Wellington 6021, New Zealand
4Cetacean Ecology, Behaviour and Evolution Lab, College of Science and Engineering, Flinders University, Adelaide 5001, South Australia
5Molecular Ecology of Aquatic Vertebrates Lab (LEMVA), Los Andes University, Bogota 11711, Colombia
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Dolphins are among the largest and most diverse predators in marine ecosystems, but our understanding of their foraging ecology, which is crucial for ecosystem management, is poor. Delphinus delphis (common dolphins) are found in tropical and temperate waters globally. Stomach content studies indicate they are opportunistic predators that feed locally on abundant small pelagic schooling fish, but information is lacking on how their diet may vary seasonally and with ontogeny. We investigated effects of body length, sex, season, and year on D. delphis diet in the Hauraki Gulf, New Zealand, using carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) stable isotope analysis of 56 skin samples collected during 13 years (2004-2016). Dolphin δ15N values changed with body length, suggesting ontogenetic dietary variation. Nitrogen isotope values were higher in austral autumn/winter compared to spring/summer, whilst δ13C values decreased throughout the study period, suggesting temporal changes in primary productivity likely affecting the dolphins’ diet. Sex had a minor effect on dolphin δ13C values, with male and female isotopic niches overlapping by 62.6% and 45.2% (respectively). Our results provide a baseline for detecting future changes in the trophic ecology of D. delphis in a key habitat in New Zealand and highlight their role as a sentinel species in this coastal ecosystem.


KEY WORDS: Isotopic niche · Delphinids · Hauraki Gulf · New Zealand · Trophic ecology


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Cite this article as: Peters KJ, Bury SJ, Betty EL, Parra GJ, Tezanos-Pinto G, Stockin KA (2020) Foraging ecology of the common dolphin Delphinus delphis revealed by stable isotope analysis. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 652:173-186. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13482

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