Applications of stable isotope techniques to the ecology of mammals


  • Editor: JS

K. Crawford. E-mail:


  • 1Stable isotope analysis (SIA) has the potential to become a widespread tool in mammalian ecology, because of its power in resolving the ecological and behavioural characteristics of animals. Although applications of the technique have enhanced our understanding of mammalian biology, it remains underused. Here we provide a review of previous applications to the study of extant mammals, drawing when appropriate on examples from the wider ecological literature, to identify the potential for future development of the approach.
  • 2Stable isotope analysis has been applied successfully to understanding the basic foraging decisions of mammals. However, SIA generates quantitative data on a continuous scale meaning that the approach can be particularly powerful in the characterization of community metrics, such as dimensions of resource partitioning within species assemblages or nutrient dynamics in food chains. Resolving spatial and temporal patterns of individual, intraspecific and interspecific resource use is of fundamental importance in animal ecology and evolutionary biology and SIA will emerge as a critical tool in these fields.
  • 3Geographical differences in naturally occurring stable isotopes have allowed ecologists to describe large-scale mammal migrations. Several isotopic gradients exist at smaller spatial scales, which can provide finer resolution of spatial ecology.
  • 4A combination of foraging and movement decisions is of prime importance in the study of ecotoxicology, since this discipline requires quantitative understanding of exposure risk.