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J Anim Ecol. 2006 Sep;75(5):1190-200.

Temporal and intrapopulation variation in prey choice of wintering geese determined by stable isotope analysis.

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  • 1Division of Environmental and Evolutionary Biology, Institute of Biomedical & Life Sciences, University of Glasgow, UK.


1. Individual variability in prey preferences can have marked effects on many demographic parameters from individual survival and fecundity to the vital rates of entire populations. A population level response is ultimately determined by individual prey choices; however, the effect of individual dietary choice is often overlooked. 2. We determined prey choice by individual consumers, light-bellied Brent geese Branta bernicla, during the overwintering period. Two hundred and eighty-one individuals were sampled at distinct temporal points over two winters. Stable isotopic ratios of carbon and nitrogen for blood cells and blood plasma, from each sampled individual were measured. Isotopic ratios for potential prey items were also measured. 3. Delta15N and delta13C for blood samples were both significantly different between sample months. Generally we found a decrease in both isotopic ratios during the course of the winter. All potential prey items were also isotopically distinct. Multisource mixing models (isosource) were used to determine the range of possible contribution to the diet of individuals. 4. During early winter, diet consisted almost exclusively of sea grass Zostera spp. The level of Zostera spp. in the diet dropped until mid-winter, and was supplemented by the utilization of green algae Ulva lactuca, and Enteromorpha spp., and terrestrial grasses. Terrestrial grass comprised an increasing proportion of the diet in late winter, representing virtually the exclusive food source by April. 5. By examining intrapopulation variability in resource utilization we highlight a number of ecologically important factors not addressed by previous population level studies.

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