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Keywords:

  • Bayesian;
  • carbon;
  • diet;
  • food web;
  • isotopic fractionation;
  • MixSIR;
  • nitrogen;
  • rainbow trout;
  • salmon;
  • sampling importance resampling

Abstract

Stable isotopes are a powerful tool for ecologists, often used to assess contributions of different sources to a mixture (e.g. prey to a consumer). Mixing models use stable isotope data to estimate the contribution of sources to a mixture. Uncertainty associated with mixing models is often substantial, but has not yet been fully incorporated in models. We developed a Bayesian-mixing model that estimates probability distributions of source contributions to a mixture while explicitly accounting for uncertainty associated with multiple sources, fractionation and isotope signatures. This model also allows for optional incorporation of informative prior information in analyses. We demonstrate our model using a predator–prey case study. Accounting for uncertainty in mixing model inputs can change the variability, magnitude and rank order of estimates of prey (source) contributions to the predator (mixture). Isotope mixing models need to fully account for uncertainty in order to accurately estimate source contributions.