Analysis of Inter- and Intra-individual Variation in Foraging Habits of the Endangered Hawaiian Petrel Using Stables Isotopes
Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Stable isotope analysis of the endangered Hawaiian petrel’s (Pterodroma sandwichensis, HAPE) feathers provides otherwise intractable information regarding non-breeding season foraging habits. Adult HAPE spend 3.5-6 months at sea during the non-breeding season, at which time they sequentially molt their flight feathers. Because feathers are metabolically inert once synthesized, they capture isotopic signals while they are grown, providing an opportunity to study foraging habits over time. Here we use stable hydrogen (δD), carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) isotopes to assess variation in foraging habits within and between individuals, and among four breeding colonies. δD is an indicator of prevalence of fish vs. invertebrates in the diet. In one analysis, we observed large variation in feather δD (125‰), with adults from Maui and Kauai having significantly higher δD values than corresponding hatch-year birds, indicating significant dietary differences between age groups. In a second analysis, we utilized δ13C and δ15N of Hawaii, Maui and Lanai adults, values which vary with trophic level and also at the base of the food web across HAPE’s foraging range, potentially revealing information about feeding location, as well as diet. Furthermore, because the sequence of molt is known, we are able to determine whether individual foraging specialization (continued use of the same foraging behavior over time) exists in this species. To do this, we analyzed two primary feathers, P1 and P6, which reflect the beginning and the middle of the non-breeding season, respectively. We did not find significant differences in δ13C or δ15N between P1 and P6, suggesting consistent foraging habits within individuals over time. This provides evidence that individual foraging specialization exists within these populations. Analysis of a secondary feather grown late in the molt sequence would further illuminate the extent of foraging specialization. Finally, δ15N differs significantly between Hawaii and Maui adults, suggesting foraging segregation between these two populations. HAPE may be sensitive to changes in prey availability, given evidence of foraging specialization. However, conserving HAPE populations with apparently different foraging habits may be critical to preserve ecological diversity within the species.