Complementary methods assessing short and long-term prey of a marine top predator : Application to the grey seal-fishery conflict in the Baltic Sea
Tverin, M., Esparza-Salas, R., Strömberg, A., Tang, P., Kokkonen, I., Herrero, A., . . . Lundström, K. (2019). Complementary methods assessing short and long-term prey of a marine top predator : Application to the grey seal-fishery conflict in the Baltic Sea. PLoS ONE, 14 (1), e0208694. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0208694
Published inPLoS ONE
© 2019 Tverin et al.
The growing grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) population in the Baltic Sea has created conflicts with local fisheries, comparable to similar emerging problems worldwide. Adequate information on the foraging habits is a requirement for responsible management of the seal population. We investigated the applicability of available dietary assessment methods by comparing morphological analysis and DNA metabarcoding of gut contents (short-term diet; n = 129/125 seals, respectively), and tissue chemical markers i.e. fatty acid (FA) profiles of blubber and stable isotopes (SIs) of liver and muscle (mid- or long-term diet; n = 108 seals for the FA and SI markers). The methods provided complementary information. Short-term methods indicated prey species and revealed dietary differences between age groups and areas but for limited time period. In the central Baltic, herring was the main prey, while in the Gulf of Finland percid and cyprinid species together comprised the largest part of the diet. Perch was also an important prey in the western Baltic Proper. The DNA analysis provided firm identification of many prey species, which were neglected or identified only at species group level by morphological analysis. Liver SIs distinguished spatial foraging patterns and identified potentially migrated individuals, whereas blubber FAs distinguished individuals frequently utilizing certain types of prey. Tissue chemical markers of adult males suggested specialized feeding to certain areas and prey, which suggest that these individuals are especially prone to cause economic losses for fisheries. We recommend combined analyses of gut contents and tissue chemical markers as dietary monitoring methodology of aquatic top predators to support an optimal ecosystem-based management. ...