Morphological characteristics of harbor seal (Phoca vitulina) whiskers and their use in dietary reconstruction using stable isotope ratios

Canadian Journal of Zoology,Volume 96, Issue 11, Page 1255-1263, November 2018. We investigated whether inferences about harbor seal (Phoca vitulina Linnaeus, 1758) whisker shed status and growth rates based on whisker morphology could improve dietary time series from whisker isotopic profiles. We identified morphometric characteristics of Alaskan harbor seal whiskers, including a smooth root section (SRS) and a bumpy section. The SRS was longer for spring versus fall-collected whiskers and matched the length of fully grown, shed whiskers. Thus, SRS length can differentiate whisker shed and growth status, and we used it to determine the sequence of whisker shedding by cohort in summer-captured harbor seals. The mean interbump length (IBL) correlated with whisker length, potentially providing a proxy for whisker growth rate. We compared carbon isotope ratios (expressed as δ13C values) along the three longest whiskers from 10 harbor seals, using two approaches for converting whisker position to date: (1) a standard growth rate constant based on captive studies and (2) individually adjusted growth rates based on whisker morphology. Intraindividual patterns of whisker δ13C values became more synchronous when expressed by deposition date rather than by position; however, adjusting growth rates based on IBL did not improve synchrony further. These findings suggest that whisker morphology can contribute whisker growth rate and shedding information for dietary recon struc...
Source: Canadian Journal of Zoology - Category: Zoology Authors: Source Type: research

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