Ecology and Evolution
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Spatial variation in marine oxygen isotope ratios ( δ18O) resulting from differential evaporation rates and precipitation inputs is potentially useful for characterizing marine mammal distributions and tracking movements across δ18O gradients. Dentine hydroxyapatite contains carbonate and phosphate that precipitate in oxygen isotopic equilibrium with body water, which in odontocetes closely tracks the isotopic composition of ambient water. To test whether dentine oxygen isotope composition reliably records that of ambient water and can therefore serve as a proxy for odontocete distribution and movement patterns, we measured δ18O values of dentine structural carbonate (δ18OSC) and phosphate (δ18OP) of seven odontocete species (n = 55 individuals) from regional marine water bodies spanning a surface water δ18O range of several per mil. Mean dentine δ18OSC (range +21.2 to +25.5‰ VSMOW) and δ18OP (+16.7 to +20.3‰) values were strongly correlated with marine surface water δ18O values, with lower dentine δ18OSC and δ18OP values in high-latitude regions (Arctic and Eastern North Pacific) and higher values in the Gulf of California, Gulf of Mexico, and Mediterranean Sea. Correlations between dentine δ18OSC and δ18OP values with marine surface water δ18O values indicate that sequential δ18O measurements along dentine, which grows incrementally and archives intra- and interannual isotopic composition over the lifetime of the animal, would be useful for characterizing residency within and movements among water bodies with strong δ18O gradients, particularly between polar and lower latitudes, or between oceans and marginal basins.