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Combined usage of stable isotopes and GPS-based telemetry to understand the feeding ecology of an omnivorous bird, the Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)

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The aim of the present study was to investigate the feeding ecology of an omnivorous bird, the Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis Ord, 1815), breeding in a highly urbanized and heterogeneous landscape (Montréal area, Quebec, Canada). We used gastrointestinal (G.I.) tract content analysis, GPS-based tracking information, and stable isotope profiles of carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) in selected tissues and major food items. Based on GPS tracking data (1–3 days), Ring-billed Gulls were categorized according to their use of three main foraging habitats: agricultural, St. Lawrence River, and anthropogenic (comprising urban areas, landfills, and wastewater treatment plant basins). Ring-billed Gulls that foraged predominantly in anthropogenic habitats exhibited significantly lower δ15N in blood cells and higher total C to N ratios (C:N) in liver. These lower δ15N and higher C:N ratios were characteristic of profiles determined in food items consumed by Ring-billed Gulls at these urbanized sites (e.g., processed foods). The strong positive correlations between δ13C and δ15N in Ring-billed Gull tissues (plasma, blood cells, and liver) that differed in isotopic turnover times, as well as the strong positive correlations in both δ13C and δ15N between tissue pairs, indicated that Ring-billed Gulls exhibited conserved dietary habits throughout the nesting period. This study demonstrates that combining conventional dietary examination, tissue stable isotope analysis, and fine-scale GPS tracking information may improve our understanding of the large intrapopulation variations in foraging behaviour (and isotopic profiles) commonly observed in omnivorous birds.
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Keywords: Larus delawarensis; bird; contenu stomacal; isotope stable; oiseau; stable isotope; stomach content; telemetry; télémétrie; urban ecology; écologie urbaine

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Centre de recherche en toxicologie de l’environnement (TOXEN), Département des sciences biologiques, Université du Québec à Montréal, Montréal, QC H3C 3P8, Canada. 2: Groupe de recherche en écologie comportementale et animale (GRECA), Département des sciences biologiques, Université du Québec à Montréal, Montréal, QC H3C 3P8, Canada. 3: Centre de recherche en géochimie et géodynamique (GEOTOP), Université du Québec à Montréal, Montréal, QC H3C 3P8, Canada.

Publication date: 2013-01-01

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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