Resolving the trophic relations of cryptic species: an example using stable isotope analysis of dolphin teeth

Kylie Owen, Kate Charlton-Robb, Ross Thompson

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15 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Understanding the foraging ecology and diet of animals can play a crucial role in conservation of a species. This is particularly true where species are cryptic and coexist in environments where observing feeding behaviour directly is difficult. Here we present the first information on the foraging ecology of a recently identified species of dolphin (Southern Australian bottlenose dolphin (SABD)) and comparisons to the common bottlenose dolphin (CBD) in Victoria, Australia, using stable isotope analysis of teeth. Stable isotope signatures differed significantly between SABD and CBD for both delta(13)C (-14.4 parts per thousand vs. -15.5 parts per thousand respectively) and delta(15)N (15.9 parts per thousand vs. 15.0 parts per thousand respectively), suggesting that the two species forage in different areas and consume different prey. This finding supports genetic and morphological data indicating that SABD are distinct from CBD. In Victoria, the SABD is divided into two distinct populations, one in the large drowned river system of Port Phillip Bay and the other in a series of coastal lakes and lagoons called the Gippsland Lakes. Within the SABD species, population differences were apparent. The Port Phillip Bay population displayed a significantly higher delta(15)N than the Gippsland Lakes population (17.0 parts per thousand vs. 15.5 parts per thousand), suggesting that the Port Phillip Bay population may feed at a higher trophic level a result which is supported by analysis of local food chains. Important future work is required to further understand the foraging ecology and diet of this newly described, endemic, and potentially endangered species of dolphin.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere16457
Number of pages10
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume6
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2011

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