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Biol Lett. 2013 May 1;9(3):20121036. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2012.1036. Print 2013 Jun 23.

Stranded dolphin stomach contents represent the free-ranging population's diet.

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  • 1Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, Sandy Bay, Tasmania 7005, Australia. ecodes@live.co.uk


Diet is a fundamental aspect of animal ecology. Cetacean prey species are generally identified by examining stomach contents of stranded individuals. Critical uncertainty in these studies is whether samples from stranded animals are representative of the diet of free-ranging animals. Over two summers, we collected faecal and gastric samples from healthy free-ranging individuals of an extensively studied bottlenose dolphin population. These samples were analysed by molecular prey detection and these data compared with stomach contents data derived from stranded dolphins from the same population collected over 22 years. There was a remarkable consistency in the prey species composition and relative amounts between the two datasets. The conclusions of past stomach contents studies regarding dolphin habitat associations, prey selection and proposed foraging mechanisms are supported by molecular data from live animals and the combined dataset. This is the first explicit test of the validity of stomach contents analysis for accurate population-scale diet determination of an inshore cetacean.


DNA-based; PCR; Sarasota; foraging

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