The nutritional nexus: Linking niche, habitat variability and prey composition in a generalist marine predator

Gabriel E. Machovsky-Capuska, Mark G.R. Miller, Fabiola R.O. Silva, Christophe Amiot, Karen A. Stockin, Alistair M. Senior, Rob Schuckard, David Melville, David Raubenheimer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)


Our understanding of the niche concept will remain limited while the quantity and range of different food types eaten remain a dominant proxy for niche breadth, as this does not account for the broad ecological context that governs diet. Linking nutrition, physiology and behaviour is critical to predict the extent to which a species adjusts its nutritional niche breadth at the levels of prey (“prey composition niche,” defined as the range of prey compositions eaten) and diet (“realized nutritional niche” is the range of diets composed through feeding on the prey). Here, we studied adult chick-rearing Australasian gannets Morus serrator to propose an integrative approach using sea surface temperature anomalies (SSTa), geographic location and bathymetry over different years, to explore their relationship with the nutritional composition of prey and diets (i.e. prey composition and nutritional niche breadth), habitat use and foraging behaviour. We found that gannets feed on prey that varied widely in their nutritional composition (have a broad prey composition niche), and composed diets from these prey that likewise varied in composition (have a broad realized nutritional niche), suggesting generalism at two levels of macronutrient selection. Across seasons, we established “nutritional landscapes” (hereafter nutriscapes), linking the nutritional content of prey (wet mass protein-to-lipid ratio—P:L) to the most likely geographic area of capture and bathymetry. Nutriscapes varied in their P:L from 6.06 to 15.28, over time, space and bathymetry (0–150 m). During warm water events (strong positive SSTa), gannets expanded their foraging habitat, increased their foraging trip duration and consumed prey and diets with low macronutrient content (wet mass proportions of P and L). They were also constrained to the smallest prey composition and realized nutritional niche breadths. Our findings are consistent with previous suggestions that dietary generalism evolves in heterogeneous environments, and provide a framework for understanding the nutritional goals in wild marine predators and how these goals drive ecological interactions and are, in turn, ultimately shaped by environmental fluctuations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1286-1298
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • bio-logging
  • multidimensional nutritional niche framework
  • multivariate ellipse-based Bayesian approach
  • niche theory
  • nutritional landscapes
  • seabirds

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