Isotopic niche plasticity in a marine top predator as indicator of a large marine ecosystem food web status
CIANCIO, JAVIER E.; YORIO, PABLO; BURATTI, CLAUDIO; COLOMBO, GUSTAVO ÁLVAREZ; FRERE, ESTEBAN
ELSEVIER SCIENCE BV
Año: 2021 vol. 126
As marine ecosystems are harvested or modified by anthropogenic or natural factors, there is an increasing demand for indicators of trophic web health or status. The Magellanic Penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus) is a widely distributed species that forages in the Patagonian Shelf. During breeding, this species is a central-place forager that feeds mainly on schooling fish, with Argentine anchovy (Engraulis anchoita) being the dominant prey in the north and Fuegian sprat (Sprattus fuegensis) in the south of the Argentine Patagonian distribution (40?55°S). Like most forage fish, both prey species display large natural interannual recruitment fluctuations. We used stable isotope analysis of adult Magellanic penguin blood obtained at twelve colonies along its Patagonian latitudinal range to assess changes in isotopic niche and in trophic level as a response to interannual changes in abundance and spatial segregation of forage fish size classes, respectively. Magellanic penguins showed large isotopic niche fluctuations among breeding seasons, explained by the contribution of forage fish in their diet. Furthermore, the size of the isotopic niche negatively correlated with forage fish biomass estimated from acoustic surveys and with their contribution in penguin diet. We defined an isotopic niche size threshold that indicates low abundance of forage fish in nearby feeding grounds. In addition, the trophic level of Magellanic penguins increased with latitude, which corresponds to the size-distribution of both main forage fish species, showing that penguins from different colonies target different size classes of their main prey. We present here a simple and easy to implement indicator to monitor the status of the base of the food web in one of the most productive marine areas in the world, which constitutes the feeding ground of a diverse group of high trophic level predators and sustains large-scale fisheries.