Are stable isotope ratios and oscillations consistent in all baleen plates along the filtering apparatus? Validation of an increasingly used methodology
Rationale Baleen plates are anatomical structures composed of inert tissue that hang from the upper jaw in mysticetes. Baleen plates may differ in size and in coloration between different segments of the filtering row or between sides of the mouth. Concern has been raised that variation in baleen plate characteristics may reflect dissimilar structural composition and growth rates liable to affect stable isotope ratios and their oscillation patterns. Methods We measured stable carbon (δ 13 C values) and nitrogen (δ 15 N values) isotope ratios at intervals of 1 cm along the longitudinal axis of six baleen plates collected from different positions along the mouth of a fin whale. All samples were analysed using a continuous flow isotope ratio mass spectrometer. Generalized additive models were fitted to the data from each baleen plate and the results of the models were compared visually. Results A total of 206 samples were analysed. Visually, all baleen plates presented nearly identical oscillations, independent of the position or the coloration of the baleen plate. However, the variation in δ 13 C and δ 15 N values occurring between the different baleen plates was higher in the segments of oscillations exhibiting steeper slopes. Conclusions Differences in size between plates in an individual are due to differential erosion rates according to their position in the mouth. Therefore, the position of sampling along the baleen plate row should not be a reason for concern when conducting stable isotope studies.
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