Isotopes in teeth and a cryptic population of coastal freshwater seals
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Isotopes in teeth and a cryptic population of coastal freshwater seals

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  • Journal Title:
    Conservation Biology
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    Human activities threaten the biodiversity of aquatic mammals across the globe. Conservation of these species hinges on the ability to delineate movements and foraging behaviors of animals, but gaining such insights is hampered by difficulties in tracing individuals over their lives. We determined isotope ratios in teeth (87Sr/86Sr, 13C/12C, and 18O/16O) to examine lifelong movement and resource‐use patterns of a unique freshwater population of a wide‐ranging pinniped species (harbor seal [Phoca vitulina]) that resides in Iliamna Lake, Alaska (U.S.A.). This population's potentially unique migratory behavior and use of different trophic resources are unknown. The isotope ratios we measured in teeth showed that seals were born in the lake, remained lifelong residents, and relied principally on resources produced from in the lake, even when seasonally abundant and nutrient‐dense spawning anadromous fish (i.e., sockeye salmon [Oncorhynchus nerka]) were available in the lake. Our results illustrate how serial isotope records in teeth, particularly 87Sr/86Sr ratios, can be used to quantify how coastal mammal populations exploit both freshwater and marine ecosystems. Understanding lifelong patterns of habitat and resource use is essential information when designing effective conservation plans for threatened coastal mammals. We present the Iliamna Lake harbor seals as a unique case study into how isotope records within teeth can help reveal the cryptic ecology of such a population residing in an intact ecosystem. The results also provide critical baseline information for the Kvichak River system, which is facing an uncertain future due to proposed large‐scale industrial development and a rapidly changing climate.
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    Conservation Biology, 33(6), 1415-1425
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    Accepted Manuscript
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