Timing of isotopic integration in marine mammal skull: comparative study between calcified tissues


  • Marjorie Riofrío-Lazo,

    Corresponding author
    1. Galapagos Science Center, Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ) and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), San Cristóbal Island, Galápagos, Ecuador, EC200150
    2. Centro Interdisciplinario de Ciencias Marinas – Instituto Politécnico Nacional, Baja California Sur, México
    • Correspondence to: M. Riofrío-Lazo, Galapagos Science Center – USFQ and UNC, Ave. Alsacio Northia, Pto. Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristóbal Island, Galápagos, Ecuador EC200150.

      E-mail: marjorieriofrio@gmail.com

    Search for more papers by this author
  • David Aurioles-Gamboa

    1. Centro Interdisciplinario de Ciencias Marinas – Instituto Politécnico Nacional, Baja California Sur, México
    Search for more papers by this author



Tissues with different turnover rates have different isotope compositions and reflect the different periods in an animal's life when the isotopes are incorporated during the growth of tissues. Bone is one of the most used tissues for reconstruction of an animal's diet; however, the time of isotope integration remains unknown for many species.


The δ15N and δ13C values in tooth dentine and bone tissue from the maxilla and mandible of 21 stranded northern elephant seals, Mirounga angustirostris, collected on the San Benito and Magdalena Islands, Mexico, between 2000 and 2008 were compared. Bone and dentine samples from each growth layer within the tooth were analyzed using a PDZ Europa ANCA-GSL elemental analyzer interfaced with a PDZ Europa 20-20 continuous flow gas source mass spectrometer.


The δ15N and δ13C values were not different between bone structures, indicating similar turnover rates, metabolic activity and amino acid compositions. The differences in the observed δ13C values between tissues are probably indicative of differences in their amino acid compositions, although the similarities in δ15N values indicated less variation from different amino acids. Correlation of the analyses between isotopic values of tissues suggests that the maxilla and/or mandible of M. angustirostris might reflect the δ15N signal incorporated during the last 5 years of life of the individuals.


This study demonstrated the usefulness of the applied approach for providing a best approximation of the timing of isotopic integration into the skull of a marine mammal, thereby reducing uncertainty in exploring historic changes in the species' feeding behavior. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.