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Fatty Acid Analysis of Egg Yolks as a Method in Determining Diet in a Seabird, the Black-Legged Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla)

Status Complete
Seeking Researchers No
Start Date 09/01/2005
End Date 06/30/2006
Funding Source N/A
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Last Updated 07/05/2008 01:25AM


  Ian van Tets

Student Researchers
  Charlene LaCoursiere


Fatty acid signature analysis is a new technique that may provide a non-invasive way to obtain dietary information from seabirds using their eggs. The fatty acid profile of the mother's diet should be reflected in the profile in the yolks of her eggs. The aim of this study was to test this, using free-foraging female black-legged kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla) from Middleton Island, Alaska. The kittiwakes were supplementally fed a diet of squid (Loligo opalescens) for half of the egg deposition period, then switched to a diet of sprat (Sprattus sprattus) for the remainder of the deposition period. The eggs were collected and three samples were taken from each yolk. One sample was taken from yolk that was deposited when the mother was fed squid, one from yolk deposited when the diet was changed, and one from yolk deposited when the mother was fed sprat. The fatty acid composition of the yolk and prey samples was analyzed using automated solvent extraction (ASE) and identified using liquid-gas chromatography (GC-MS). Six dietary (non-biosynthesized) fatty acids present in prey and yolk samples were used for analysis. The fatty acid profiles of the yolk region were found to differ significantly using a MANOVA (P<0.001). The relative abundance of the individual fatty acids in each yolk region and relevant prey items were then compared. They were found to closely match in at least half of the samples. Fatty acid signature analysis of egg yolks is a viable, non-invasive method for analyzing the maternal diet in black-legged kittiwakes.

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