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Comparing pellet and stable isotope analyses of nestling Bonelli's Eagle Aquila fasciata diet



Diet analyses are central to the study of avian trophic ecology, and stable isotope analyses have made an increasing contribution in the last two decades. Few isotopic studies have assessed the diet of raptor species, which are more frequently analysed by conventional diet methods such as pellet analysis. In this study, we compare prey consumption estimates of nestling Bonelli's Eagles Aquila fasciata from conventional pellet analysis (in terms of items and biomass) and stable isotopic mixing models (SIAR) using δ13C, δ15N and δ34S of feathers. The pellet analysis showed that European Rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus, pigeons (mainly Common Wood Pigeons Columba palumbus and Domestic Pigeons Columba livia dom.), Red-legged Partridges Alectoris rufa, passerines, Yellow-legged Gulls Larus michahellis and Eurasian Red Squirrels Sciurus vulgaris were the main prey, so they were selected for diet reconstructions in SIAR. At the population level, mean prey consumption estimates were similar for pellets (both items and biomass) and SIAR. At the territory level, the weighted kappa statistic showed good ordinal scale agreement in main prey consumption between items or biomass and SIAR. Although the intraclass correlation coefficient showed poor method agreement when considering all prey in the same analysis, the intraclass correlation coefficients for each prey category showed significant agreement between pellets and SIAR when estimating the consumption of Rabbits, pigeons and Gulls, with lower agreement for passerines and Squirrels. Lastly, there was poor method agreement for estimates of Partridges. Our results suggest an overall agreement between the pellet analysis and SIAR when estimating nestling Bonelli's Eagle diet at both the population and, to a lesser extent, the territory level, supporting the usefulness of isotopic mixing models when identifying the terrestrial and marine components of raptor diets.