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Article     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 38(4)

Niche differentiation of bottlenose dolphin species in South Australia revealed by stable isotopes and stomach contents

Susan E. Gibbs A B C , Robert G. Harcourt A and Catherine M. Kemper B

A Marine Mammal Research Group, Graduate School of the Environment, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW 2109, Australia.
B South Australian Museum, North Terrace, Adelaide, SA 5000, Australia.
C Corresponding author. Email: sue.gibbs@bigpond.com

Wildlife Research 38(4) 261-270 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WR10108
Submitted: 6 July 2010  Accepted: 9 May 2011   Published: 6 September 2011

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Context: Animal species with overlapping ranges are common worldwide, but how these species coexist is less obvious. Dolphins are protected in Australia and yet little information is available on their resource use which is essential for successful management and conservation.

Aim: The aim of this study was to determine the degree of overlap in diet and feeding ecology of the two Tursiops spp. that have overlapping ranges in South Australia.

Methods: Stomach content (91 Tursiops sp. and 14 T. truncatus) and stable isotope (δ13C, δ15N) analyses (39 Tursiops sp. and 14 T. truncatus) were conducted. Carcasses of dolphins were opportunistically collected between 1974 and 2005. Diet was quantified by frequency of occurrence (FOO) and numerical abundance (NA) of prey.

Key results: Delta13C from teeth revealed distinct differences in primary source of carbon, corresponding to coastal (Tursiops sp. n = 39,  = –12.24, s.d. = 1.32) and offshore habitats (T. truncatus n = 14,  = –14.21, s.d. = 0.55). Differences in δ15N revealed Tursiops sp. ( = 11.66, s.d. = 0.58) feeds at a lower trophic level than T. truncatus ( = 14.29, s.d. = 0.88). Stomach content analyses for Tursiops sp. corroborated stable isotope results. There was a significant difference between the diets of Tursiops sp. from north Spencer Gulf and south Spencer Gulf (ANOSIM R = 0.249, P = 0.001). Prey were generally demersal in habit with the most important from the cephalopod families Octopodidae, Sepiidae and Loliginidae and fish families Carangidae, Clupeidae, Terapontidae and Apogonidae. For T. truncatus there were insufficient stomach contents for assessment.

Conclusions: South Australian bottlenose dolphin species exhibit distinct niche differentiation with clear evidence of regional variation in the diet of Tursiops sp.

Implications: The between and within species diet differentiation demonstrated, highlights the importance of regional management. Such results are internationally significant as coastal and offshore forms of Tursiops spp. occur worldwide.

Additional keywords: dentine, diet, marine mammal, resource partitioning.


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