Quantitative fatty acid signature analysis: A new method of estimating predator diets
Iverson, Sara J.
Bowen, W. Don
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Accurate estimates of the diets of predators are required in many areas of ecology, but for many species current methods are imprecise, limited to the last meal, and often biased. The diversity of fatty acids and their patterns in organisms, coupled with the narrow limitations on their biosynthesis, properties of digestion in monogastric animals, and the prevalence of large storage reservoirs of lipid in many predators; led us to propose the use of quantitative fatty acid signature analysis (QFASA) to study predator diets. We present a statistical model that provides quantitative estimates of the proportions of prey specie's in the diets of individual predators using fatty acid signatures. We conducted simulation studies using a database of 28; prey species (n = 954 individuals) from the Scotian Shelf off eastern Canada to investigate properties of the model and to evaluate the reliability with which prey could be distinguished in the model. We then conducted experiments on. grey seals (Halichoerus grypus, n = 25) and harp seals (Phoca groenlandica, n = 5) to assess quantitative characteristics of fatty acid deposition and to develop calibration coefficients for individual fatty acids to account for predator lipid metabolism, We then tested the model and calibration coefficients by estimating the diets of. experimentally fed captive grey seals (n = 6, switched from herring to a mackerel/capelin diet) and mink kits (Mustela vison, n = 46, switched from milk to one of three oil-supplemented diets). The diets of all experimentally fed animals were generally well estimated using QFASA and were consistent with qualitative and quantitative expectations, provided that appropriate calibration coefficients were used. In a final case, we compared video data of foraging by individual free-ranging harbor seals (Phoca vitulina, n = 23) fitted with Crittercams and QFASA estimates of the diet of those same seals using a complex ecosystem-wide prey database. Among the 28 prey species in the database, QFASA estimated sandlance to be the dominant prey species in the diet of all seals (averaging 62% of diet), followed primarily by flounders, but also capelin and minor amounts of other species, although there was also considerable individual variability among seals. These estimates were consistent with video data showing sandlance to be the predominant prey, followed by flatfish. We conclude that QFASA provides estimates of diets for individuals at time scales that are relevant to the ecological.. processes affecting survival, and can be used to study diet variability within individuals over time, which will provide important opportunities rarely possible with other indirect methods. We propose that the QFASA model we have set forth will be applicable to a wide range of predators and ecosystems.
Iverson, Sara J., Chris Field, W. Don Bowen, and Wade Blanchard. 2004. "Quantitative fatty acid signature analysis: A new method of estimating predator diets." Ecological Monographs 74(2): 211-235. Copyright by the Ecological Society of America