Isotopic Niche Variation in a Higher Trophic Level Ectotherm: Highlighting the Role of Succulent Plants in Desert Food Webs

<div><p>Stable isotope analysis of animal tissues allows description of isotopic niches, whose axes in an n-dimensional space are the isotopic ratios, compared to a standard, of different isotope systems (e.g. δ<sup>13</sup>C, δ<sup>15</sup>N). Isotopic niches are informative about where an animal, population or species lives and about what it consumes. Here we describe inter- and intrapopulation isotopic niche (bidimensional δ<sup>13</sup>C-δ<sup>15</sup>N space) of the Orange-throated whiptail (<i>Aspidoscelis hyperythra</i>), an arthropodivorous small lizard, in ten localities of Baja California Sur (Mexico). These localities range from extreme arid to subtropical conditions. Between 13 and 20 individuals were sampled at each locality and 1 cm of tail-tip was collected for isotope analysis. As expected, interpopulation niche width variation was much larger than intrapopulation one. Besides, isotopic variation was not related to age, sex or individual size of lizards. This suggests geographic variation of the isotopic niche was related to changes in the basal resources that fuel the trophic web at each locality. The position of Bayesian isotope ellipses in the δ-space indicated that whiptails in more arid localities were enriched in <sup>13</sup>C, suggesting most of the carbon they ingested came from CAM succulent plants (cacti, agaves) and in minor degree in C<sub>4</sub> grasses. Contrarily, whiptails in subtropical areas were depleted in <sup>13</sup>C, as they received more carbon from C<sub>3</sub> scrubs and trees. Localities closer to sea-level tended to be enriched in <sup>15</sup>N, but a clear influence of marine subsidies was detected only at individual level. The study contributes to identify the origin and pathways through which energy flows across the trophic webs of North American deserts.</p></div>