A three-isotope approach to disentangling the diet of a generalist consumer: the yellow-legged gull in northwest Spain

Moreno, R., Jover, L., Munilla, I., Velando, A. & Sanpera, C. A three-isotope approach to disentangling the diet of a generalist consumer: the yellow-legged gull in northwest Spain. Marine Biology 157, 545–553 (2010).


The widespread omnivory of consumers and the trophic complexity of marine ecosystems make it difficult to infer the feeding ecology of species. The use of stable isotopic analysis plays a crucial role in elucidating trophic interactions. Here we analysed d15N, d13C and d34S in chick feathers, and we used a Bayesian triple-isotope mixing model to reconstruct the diet of a generalist predator, the yellow-legged gull (Larus michahellis) that breeds in the coastal upwelling area off northwest mainland Spain. The mixing model indicated that although chicks from all colonies were fed with a high percentage of fish, there are geographical differences in their diets. While chicks from northern colonies consume higher percentages of earthworms, refuse constitutes a more important source in the diet of chicks from western colonies. The three-isotope mixing model revealed a heterogeneity in foraging habitats that would not have been apparent if only two stable isotopes had been analysed. Moreover, our work highlights the potential of adding d34S for distinguishing not only between terrestrial and marine prey, but also between different marine species such as fish, crabs and mussels.

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