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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 678:211-225 (2021)  -  DOI:

Compound-specific isotope analyses of harp seal teeth: tools for trophic ecology reconstruction

J. L. Kershaw1,2,*,#, C. de la Vega3,4,#, R. M. Jeffreys3, A. K. Frie5, T. Haug5, C. Mahaffey3, C. Mettam6, G. Stenson7, S. Smout1

1Sea Mammal Research Unit, Scottish Oceans Institute, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, KY16 8LB, Fife, Scotland
2School of Biological and Marine Sciences, Faculty of Science and Engineering, University of Plymouth, Plymouth PL4 8AA, UK
3Department of Earth, Ocean and Ecological Sciences, School of Environmental Sciences, University of Liverpool, Liverpool L69 3GP, UK
4Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research, Warnemünde, 18119 Rostock, Germany
5Institute of Marine Research (IMR), 9294 Tromsø, Norway
6Department of Earth Sciences, University College London, 5 Gower Place, London WC1E 6BS, UK
7Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Centre, St John’s A1C 5X1, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada
*Corresponding author:
#These authors contributed equally to this work

ABSTRACT: As sentinels of ecosystem health, high trophic level predators integrate information through all levels of the food web. Their tissues can be used to investigate spatiotemporal variability in foraging behaviour, and with the appropriate analytical methods and tools, archived samples can be used to reconstruct past trophic interactions. Harp seal Pagophilus groenlandicus teeth collected in the 1990s from the Northwest Atlantic were analysed for bulk stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes (δ13Cbulk and δ15Nbulk), and compound-specific stable nitrogen isotopes of amino acids (δ15NAA) for the first time. We developed a fine-scale, annual growth layer group (GLG) dentine sub-sampling method corresponding to the second and third year of life. In accordance with previous diet studies, while there was individual variability in δ15Nbulk, δ13Cbulk and δ15NAA measurements, we did not detect significant differences in isotopic niche widths between males and females, or between GLGs. Relative trophic position was calculated as the baseline-corrected δ15NAA values using trophic (glutamic acid) and source (phenylalanine and glycine) amino acids. Variability was measured between individuals in their relative trophic position, but within-individual variability was low, suggesting that they fed at the same trophic level over these 2 yr of life. These novel δ15NAA data may therefore suggest individual, specialist harp seal foraging behaviour in sub-adults. Our findings show that compound-specific stable isotope signatures of archived, inert predator tissues can be used as tools for the retrospective reconstruction of trophic interactions on broad spatiotemporal scales.

KEY WORDS: Phocid seals · Foraging specialisation · Isotopic niche · Trophic position · Diet · Dentine · Inert tissues

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Cite this article as: Kershaw JL, de la Vega C, Jeffreys RM, Frie AK and others (2021) Compound-specific isotope analyses of harp seal teeth: tools for trophic ecology reconstruction. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 678:211-225.

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