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PubMed | Omahas Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium Omaha, University of California at Santa Cruz, Louisiana State University and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Type: Journal Article | Journal: Ecology and evolution | Year: 2015

Compound-specific stable isotope analysis (CSIA) of amino acids (AA) has rapidly become a powerful tool in studies of food web architecture, resource use, and biogeochemical cycling. However, applications to avian ecology have been limited because no controlled studies have examined the patterns in AA isotope fractionation in birds. We conducted a controlled CSIA feeding experiment on an avian species, the gentoo penguin (Pygoscelis papua), to examine patterns in individual AA carbon and nitrogen stable isotope fractionation between diet (D) and consumer (C) ((13)CC-D and (15)NC-D, respectively). We found that essential AA (13)C values and source AA (15)N values in feathers showed minimal trophic fractionation between diet and consumer, providing independent but complimentary archival proxies for primary producers and nitrogen sources respectively, at the base of food webs supporting penguins. Variations in nonessential AA (13)CC-D values reflected differences in macromolecule sources used for biosynthesis (e.g., protein vs. lipids) and provided a metric to assess resource utilization. The avian-specific nitrogen trophic discrimination factor (TDFGlu-Phe = 3.50.4) that we calculated from the difference in trophic fractionation ((15)NC -D) of glutamic acid and phenylalanine was significantly lower than the conventional literature value of 7.6. Trophic positions of five species of wild penguins calculated using a multi-TDFG lu-Phe equation with the avian-specific TDFG lu-Phe value from our experiment provided estimates that were more ecologically realistic than estimates using a single TDFG lu-Phe of 7.6 from the previous literature. Our results provide a quantitative, mechanistic framework for the use of CSIA in nonlethal, archival feathers to study the movement and foraging ecology of avian consumers.

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