Stable isotopes demonstrate intraspecific variation in habitat use and trophic level of non-breeding albatrosses

William F. Mills*, Rona A. R. McGill, Yves Cherel, Stephen C. Votier, Richard A. Phillips

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
19 Downloads (Pure)


The non-breeding period is critical for restoration of body condition and self-maintenance in albatrosses, yet detailed information on diet and distribution during this stage of the annual cycle is lacking for many species. Here, we use stable isotope values of body feathers (δ13C, δ15N) to infer habitat use and trophic level of non-breeding adult Grey-headed Albatrosses Thalassarche chrysostoma (n = 194) from South Georgia. Specifically, we: (1) investigate intrinsic drivers (sex, age, previous breeding outcome) of variation in habitat use and trophic level; (2) quantify variation among feathers of the same birds; and (3) examine potential carry-over effects of habitat use and trophic level during the non-breeding period on subsequent breeding outcome. In agreement with previous tracking studies, δ13C values of individual feathers indicate that non-breeding Grey-headed Albatrosses from South Georgia foraged across a range of oceanic habitats, but mostly in subantarctic waters, between the Antarctic Polar Front and Subtropical Front. Sex differences were subtle but statistically significant, and overlap in the core isotopic niche areas was high (62%); however, males exhibited slightly lower δ13C and higher δ15N values than females, indicating that males forage at higher latitudes and at a higher trophic level. Neither age nor previous breeding outcome influenced stable isotope values, and we found no evidence of carry-over effects of non-breeding habitat use or trophic level on subsequent breeding outcome. Repeatability among feathers of the same individual was moderate in δ13C and low in δ15N. This cross-sectional study demonstrates high variability in the foraging and migration strategies of this albatross population.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)463-472
Number of pages10
Issue number2
Early online date11 Aug 2020
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021


  • intraspecific variation
  • migration
  • Procellariiformes
  • seabirds
  • Southern Ocean
  • Thalassarche chrysostoma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


Dive into the research topics of 'Stable isotopes demonstrate intraspecific variation in habitat use and trophic level of non-breeding albatrosses'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this