A DNA-based method for identification of krill species and its application to analysing the diet of marine vertebrate predators


Simon N. Jarman. CSIRO Marine Research, GPO Box 1538, Hobart, TAS, 7001, Australia. Fax: + 61 362 325000; E-mail: simon.jarman@aad.gov.au


Accurate identification of species that are consumed by vertebrate predators is necessary for understanding marine food webs. Morphological methods for identifying prey components after consumption often fail to make accurate identifications of invertebrates because prey morphology becomes damaged during capture, ingestion and digestion. Another disadvantage of morphological methods for prey identification is that they often involve sampling procedures that are disruptive for the predator, such as stomach flushing or lethal collection. We have developed a DNA-based method for identifying species of krill (Crustacea: Malacostraca), an enormously abundant group of invertebrates that are directly consumed by many groups of marine vertebrates. The DNA-based approach allows identification of krill species present in samples of vertebrate stomach contents, vomit, and, more importantly, faeces. Utilizing samples of faeces from vertebrate predators minimizes the impact of dietary studies on the subject animals. We demonstrate our method first on samples of Adelie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) stomach contents, where DNA-based species identification can be confirmed by prey morphology. We then apply the method to faeces of Adelie penguins and to faeces of the endangered pygmy blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus brevicauda). In each of these cases, krill species consumed by the predators could be identified from their DNA present in faeces or stomach contents.