North-Central Section - 39th Annual Meeting (May 19–20, 2005)

Paper No. 6
Presentation Time: 9:40 AM


CLEMENTZ, Mark T., Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce, 701 Seaway Drive, Fort Pierce, FL 34949,

Florida manatees (Trichechus manatus latirostris) are known to migrate substantial distances each year, moving between marine and freshwater habitats where they consume an array of aquatic plant species. Observations of manatee foraging habits suggest that feeding is non-selective, but movement of manatees between different aquatic ecosystems may impart a seasonal pattern on the type of plants consumed by this species (i.e., seagrass vs. freshwater vegetation). Since the d13C value of manatee tissues are controlled by the stable isotope composition of the animal's diet, compound-specific stable isotope measurement of d13C values of cholesterol and other organic molecules that form over a relatively short period of time can track sub-annual changes in foraging habit and supplement information gained from other tissues that reflect multi-year dietary averages (e.g., collagen). Furthermore, stable isotope analysis of cholesterol extracted from ancient bones may shed light on the short-term feeding habitats of manatee populations prior to human contact.

To determine whether the measurement of cholesterol d13C values can provide short-term dietary information for manatees, we have begun collecting tissue samples from recently deceased manatees from the Indian River Lagoon along the eastern coast of Florida. From each individual, 3 tissues differing in metabolic turnover rate were selected for analysis including liver (fast turnover), muscle (intermediate turnover), and bone (slow turnover). Cholesterol extracted from each of these tissues will have formed within different periods of time over the course of the year, providing sub-annual records of seasonal dietary patterns that can be interpreted from variations in cholesterol d13C values. Comparison of cholesterol isotope values with collagen values from the same individual will then provide a means to quantify the magnitude of seasonal dietary variation relative to long-term dietary preferences. By extending these analyses to recent and fossil material, future work could examine whether the feeding patterns of Florida manatees have changed significantly over time and, if so, whether human or environmental factors have contributed to this change.