Alaska Science Center
Spatial and temporal diet segregation in northern fulmars Fulmarus glacialis breeding in Alaska: insights from fatty acid signatures
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Product Type: Journal Article
Authors: Wang, S. W., S. J. Iverson, A. M. Springer, and S. A. Hatch
Northern fulmars Fulmarus glacialis in the North Pacific Ocean are opportunistic, generalist predators, yet their diets are poorly described; thus, relationships of fulmars to supporting food webs, their utility as indicators of variability in forage fish abundances, and their sensitivity to ecosystem change are not known. We employed fatty acid (FA) signature analysis of adipose tissue from adults (n = 235) and chicks (n = 33) to compare spatial, temporal, and age-related variation in diets of fulmars breeding at 3 colonies in Alaska. FA signatures of adult fulmars differed between colonies within years, and between seasons at individual colonies. Seasonal and spatial differences in signatures were greater than interannual differences at all colonies. Differences in FA signatures reflect differences in diets, probably because the breeding colonies are located in distinct ecoregions which create unique habitats for prey assemblages, and because interannual variation in the physical environment affects the availability of forage species. Differences between FA signatures of adults and chicks in 2003 and 2004 suggest that adults fed chicks different prey than they consumed themselves. Alternatively, if adults relied on the same prey as those fed to chicks, the differences in signatures could have resulted from partial digestion of prey items by adults before chicks were fed, or direct metabolism of FAs by chicks for tissue synthesis before FAs could be deposited into adipose tissue.