Adélie penguin population diet monitoring by analysis of food DNA in scats

Simon N. Jarman, Julie C. McInnes, Cassandra Faux, Andrea M. Polanowski, James Marthick, Bruce E. Deagle, Colin Southwell, Louise Emmerson

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Abstract

The Adélie penguin is the most important animal currently used for ecosystem monitoring in the Southern Ocean. The diet of this species is generally studied by visual analysis of stomach contents; or ratios of isotopes of carbon and nitrogen incorporated into the penguin from its food. There are significant limitations to the information that can be gained from these methods. We evaluated population diet assessment by analysis of food DNA in scats as an alternative method for ecosystem monitoring with Adélie penguins as an indicator species. Scats were collected at four locations, three phases of the breeding cycle, and in four different years. A novel molecular diet assay and bioinformatics pipeline based on nuclear small subunit ribosomal RNA gene (SSU rDNA) sequencing was used to identify prey DNA in 389 scats. Analysis of the twelve population sample sets identified spatial and temporal dietary change in Adélie penguin population diet. Prey diversity was found to be greater than previously thought. Krill, fish, copepods and amphipods were the most important food groups, in general agreement with other Adélie penguin dietary studies based on hard part or stable isotope analysis. However, our DNA analysis estimated that a substantial portion of the diet was gelatinous groups such as jellyfish and comb jellies. A range of other prey not previously identified in the diet of this species were also discovered. The diverse prey identified by this DNA-based scat analysis confirms that the generalist feeding of Adélie penguins makes them a useful indicator species for prey community composition in the coastal zone of the Southern Ocean. Scat collection is a simple and non-invasive field sampling method that allows DNA-based estimation of prey community differences at many temporal and spatial scales and provides significant advantages over alternative diet analysis approaches.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere82227
JournalPLoS One
Volume8
Issue number12
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 16 Dec 2013
Externally publishedYes

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    Jarman, S. N., McInnes, J. C., Faux, C., Polanowski, A. M., Marthick, J., Deagle, B. E., Southwell, C., & Emmerson, L. (2013). Adélie penguin population diet monitoring by analysis of food DNA in scats. PLoS One, 8(12), [e82227]. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0082227