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Keywords:

  • bottlenose dolphin;
  • Tursiops truncatus;
  • diet change;
  • stable isotope;
  • carbon;
  • nitrogen

Abstract

The ability of stable isotope analysis to provide insight into ontogenetic dietary changes was examined using bottlenose dolphin tooth and skin samples. Teeth were subsampled to compare tissue produced early in life (outer tooth) to that produced later in life (inner tooth). Outer tooth had significantly higher δ15N values than the corresponding inner sample from the same tooth (n= 60, P= 0.0041), indicating that there was a temporal shift to a lower δ15N diet. There were no significant δ13C differences. Higher δ15N values in young have previously been attributed to the period of suckling. Analysis of skin tissue from stranded animals of different developmental stages similarly indicated that the δ15N values were significantly higher in young animals. Further comparisons indicated that the primary influence for this difference was animals with lengths less than or equal to the largest neonatal dolphin. This difference likely reflects an ontogenetic dietary shift from a sole reliance on milk to a combination of milk and prey species during the first year of life.