Migration strategies of skuas in the southwest Atlantic Ocean revealed by stable isotopes
Stable isotope ratios of carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) were measured in feathers to compare the non-breeding distributions and habitat use of adult brown skuas Stercorarius antarcticus lönnbergi from high-latitude colonies at Esperanza/Hope Bay (Antarctic Peninsula, 63°S) and Signy Island (South Orkneys, 60°S), with those from Bird Island (South Georgia, 54°S), which have also been tracked previously using geolocators. Breeding colony, but not sex, had a significant effect on feather δ13C and δ15N values. Feather stable isotope data from South Georgia birds mostly corresponded to oceanic, mixed subtropical–subantarctic to subantarctic waters, which agrees with the tracking data, as did a subset of the birds from the two higher latitude populations. However, other individuals displayed feather stable isotope ratios that were consistent with continental shelf or shelf-slope waters, suggesting that unlike the vast majority of brown skuas from South Georgia, many birds from higher latitude colonies spend the non-breeding season on, or near, the Patagonian Shelf. These population-level differences may have implications for exposure to anthropogenic threats or have carryover effects on subsequent breeding behaviour or performance.
Authors: Mills, W.F., Ibañez, A.E., Carneiro, A.P.B., Morales, L.M., Mariano‑Jelicich, R., McGill, R.A.R., Montalti, D., Phillips, R.A.