We are what we eat, plus some per mill: using stable isotopes to estimate diet composition in Gyps vultures over space and time

Baino, A. A., Hopcraft, G. G.J.C. , Kendall, C. J. and Newton, J. (2022) We are what we eat, plus some per mill: using stable isotopes to estimate diet composition in Gyps vultures over space and time. Ecology and Evolution, 12(3), e8726. (doi: 10.1002/ece3.8726)

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Abstract

Dietary studies in birds of prey involve direct observation and examination of food remains at resting and nesting sites. Although these methods accurately identify diet in raptors, they are time-consuming, resource-intensive, and associated with biases from the feeding ecology of raptors like Gyps vultures. Our study set out to estimate diet composition in Gyps vultures informed by stable isotopes that provide a good representation of assimilated diet from local systems. We hypothesized that differences in Gyps vulture diet composition is a function of sampling location and that these vultures move between Serengeti National Park and Selous Game Reserve to forage. We also theorized that grazing ungulates are the principal items in Gyps vulture diet. Through combined linear and Bayesian modeling, diet derived from δ13C in Gyps vultures consisted of grazing herbivores across sites, with those in Serengeti National Park consuming higher proportions of grazing herbivores (>87%). δ13C differences in vulture feather subsets did not indicate shifts in vulture diet and combined with blood δ13C, vultures fed largely on grazers for ~159 days before they were sampled. Similarly, δ15N values indicated Gyps vultures fed largely on herbivores. δ34S ratios separated where vultures fed when the two sites were compared. δ34S variation in vultures across sites resulted from baseline differences in plant δ34S values, though it is not possible to match δ34S to specific locations. Our findings highlight the relevance of repeated sampling that considers tissues with varying isotopic turnover and emerging Bayesian techniques for dietary studies using stable isotopes. Findings also suggested limited vulture movement between the two local systems. However, more sampling coupled with environmental data is required to fully comprehend this observation and its implications to Gyps vulture ecology and conservation.

Item Type:Articles
Status:Published
Refereed:Yes
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Hopcraft, Dr Grant and Newton, Dr Jason
Authors: Baino, A. A., Hopcraft, G. G.J.C., Kendall, C. J., and Newton, J.
College/School:College of Science and Engineering > Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre
College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > Institute of Biodiversity Animal Health and Comparative Medicine
College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Biodiversity, One Health & Veterinary Medicine
Journal Name:Ecology and Evolution
Publisher:Wiley
ISSN:2045-7758
ISSN (Online):2045-7758
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2022 The Authors
First Published:First published in Ecology and Evolution 12(3):e8726
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons licence

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