Estimating tissue-specific discrimination factors and turnover rates of stable isotopes of nitrogen and carbon in the smallnose fanskate Sympterygia bonapartii (Rajidae)

J Fish Biol. 2016 Aug;89(2):1258-70. doi: 10.1111/jfb.13024. Epub 2016 Jun 10.


This study aimed to estimate trophic discrimination factors (TDFs) and metabolic turnover rates of nitrogen and carbon stable isotopes in blood and muscle of the smallnose fanskate Sympterygia bonapartii by feeding six adult individuals, maintained in captivity, with a constant diet for 365 days. TDFs were estimated as the difference between δ(13) C or δ(15) N values of the food and the tissues of S. bonapartii after they had reached equilibrium with their diet. The duration of the experiment was enough to reach the equilibrium condition in blood for both elements (estimated time to reach 95% of turnover: C t95%blood = 150 days, N t95%blood = 290 days), whilst turnover rates could not be estimated for muscle because of variation among samples. Estimates of Δ(13) C and Δ(15) N values in blood and muscle using all individuals were Δ(13) Cblood = 1·7‰, Δ(13) Cmuscle = 1·3‰, Δ(15) Nblood = 2·5‰ and Δ(15) Nmuscle = 1·5‰, but there was evidence of differences of c.0·4‰ in the Δ(13) C values between sexes. The present values for TDFs and turnover rates constitute the first evidence for dietary switching in batoids based on long-term controlled feeding experiments. Overall, the results showed that S. bonapartii has relatively low turnover rates and isotopic measurements would not track seasonal movements adequately. The estimated Δ(13) C values in S. bonapartii blood and muscle were similar to previous estimations for elasmobranchs and to generally accepted values in bony fishes (Δ(13) C = 1·5‰). For Δ(15) N, the results were similar to published reports for blood but smaller than reports for muscle and notably smaller than the typical values used to estimate trophic position (Δ(15) N c. 3·4‰). Thus, trophic position estimations for elasmobranchs based on typical Δ(15) N values could lead to underestimates of actual trophic positions. Finally, the evidence of differences in TDFs between sexes reveals a need for more targeted research.

Keywords: elasmobranch; fractionation; mixing models; trophic position; δ13C; δ15N.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carbon Isotopes / analysis
  • Carbon Isotopes / blood
  • Carbon Isotopes / chemistry
  • Carbon Isotopes / metabolism*
  • Diet
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology
  • Female
  • Male
  • Muscles / chemistry
  • Muscles / metabolism
  • Nitrogen Isotopes / analysis
  • Nitrogen Isotopes / blood
  • Nitrogen Isotopes / chemistry
  • Nitrogen Isotopes / metabolism*
  • Nutritional Status
  • Skates, Fish / metabolism*


  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Nitrogen Isotopes