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Ontogenetic niche shifts occur across diverse taxonomic groups, and can have critical implications for population dynamics, community structure, and ecosystem function. In this study, we provide a hypothesis-testing framework combining univariate and multivariate analyses to examine ontogenetic niche shifts using stable isotope ratios. This framework is based on three distinct ontogenetic niche shift scenarios, i.e., (1) no niche shift, (2) niche expansion/reduction, and (3) discrete niche shift between size classes. We developed criteria for identifying each scenario, as based on three important resource use characteristics, i.e., niche width, niche position, and niche overlap. We provide an empirical example for each ontogenetic niche shift scenario, illustrating differences in resource use characteristics among different organisms. The present framework provides a foundation for future studies on ontogenetic niche shifts, and also can be applied to examine resource variability among other population sub-groupings (e.g., by sex or phenotype).


Originally published in PLoS One.

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