Distribution patterns predict individual specialization in the diet of dolphin gulls
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Many animals show some degree of individual specialization in foraging strategies and diet. This has profound ecological and evolutionary implications. For example, populations containing diverse individual foraging strategies will respond in different ways to changes in the environment, thus affecting the capacity of the populations to adapt to ... environmental changes and to diversify. However, patterns of individual specialization have been examined in few species. Likewise it is usually unknown whether specialization is maintained over time, because examining the temporal scale at which specialization occurs can prove difficult in the field. In the present study, we analyzed individual specialization in foraging in Dolphin Gulls Leucophaeus scoresbii, a scavenger endemic to the southernmost coasts of South America. We used GPS position logging and stable isotope analyses (SIA) to investigate individual specialization in feeding strategies and their persistence over time. The analysis of GPS data indicated two major foraging strategies in Dolphin Gulls from New I. (Falkland Is./Islas Malvinas). Tagged individuals repeatedly attended either a site with mussel beds or seabird and seal colonies during 5 to 7 days of tracking. Females foraging at mussel beds were heavier than those foraging at seabird colonies. Nitrogen isotope ratios (δ(15)N) of Dolphin Gull blood cells clustered in two groups, showing that individuals were consistent in their preferred foraging strategies over a period of at least several weeks. The results of the SIA as well as the foraging patterns recorded revealed a high degree of specialization for particular feeding sites and diets by individual Dolphin Gulls. Individual differences in foraging behavior were not related to sex. Specialization in Dolphin Gulls may be favored by the advantages of learning and memorizing optimal feeding locations and behaviors. Specialized individuals may reduce search and handling time and thus, optimize their energy gain and/or minimize time spent foraging.