Characterising ontogenetic niche shifts in Nile crocodile using stable isotope (?13C, ?15N) analyses of scute keratin

14 Oct 2020

Nile crocodiles undergo a three to five order of magnitude increase in body size during their lifespan. This shift coincides with a change in resource and habitat use which influences the strength, type and symmetry of interactions with other species. Identifying size-specific crocodile groups displaying similar traits is important for conservation planning. Here, we illustrate how stable carbon (?13C) and nitrogen (?15N) isotope analysis of scute keratin, together with breakpoint modelling analysis can be used to charac- terise ontogenetic niche shifts. Using a sample set of 238 crocodiles from the Okavango Delta, Botswana (35?463 cm total length), we found prominent size-related changes in the scute keratin ?13C and ?15N profiles close to 40 and 119 cm snout-vent length. The first shift corroborated the findings of a traditional stomach-content study conducted on the same population at the same time, and the second conformed to known crocodile ecology. This approach can be used as a first approximation to identify size-specific groups within crocodile populations, and these can then be investigated further using isotopic or other methods