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See detailA relict bank vole lineage highlights the biogeographic history of the Pyrenean region in Europe
Deffontaine Deurbroeck, Valérie ULg; Ledevin, Ronan; Fontaine, Michaël ULg et al

in Molecular Ecology (2009)

The Pyrenean region exhibits high levels of endemism suggesting a major contribution to the phylogeography of European species. But, to date, the role of the Pyrenees and surrounding areas as a glacial ... [more ▼]

The Pyrenean region exhibits high levels of endemism suggesting a major contribution to the phylogeography of European species. But, to date, the role of the Pyrenees and surrounding areas as a glacial refugium for temperate species remains poorly explored. In the current study, we investigated the biogeographic role of the Pyrenean region through the analyses of genetic polymorphism and morphology of a typical forest-dwelling small mammal, the bank vole (Myodes glareolus). Analyses of the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene and the third upper molar (M(3)) show a complex phylogeographic structure in the Pyrenean region with at least three distinct lineages: the Western European, Spanish and Basque lineages. The Basque lineage in the northwestern (NW) Pyrenees was identified as a new clearly differentiated and geographically localized bank vole lineage in Europe. The average M(3) shape of Basque bank voles suggests morphological differentiation but also restricted genetic exchanges with other populations. Our genetic and morphological results as well as palaeo-environmental and fossils records support the hypothesis of a new glacial refugium in Europe situated in the NW Pyrenees. The permissive microclimatic conditions that prevailed for a long time in this region may have allowed the survival of temperate species, including humans. Moreover, local differentiation around the Pyrenees is favoured by the opportunity for populations to track the shift of the vegetation belt in altitude rather than in latitude. The finding of the Basque lineage is in agreement with the high level of endemic taxa reported in the NW Pyrenees. [less ▲]

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See detailLong-Term Feeding Ecology and Habitat Use in Harbour Porpoises Phocoena Phocoena from Scandinavian Waters Inferred from Trace Elements and Stable Isotopes
Fontaine, Michael ULg; Tolley, K. A.; Siebert, U. et al

in BMC Ecology (2007), 7

BACKGROUND: We investigated the feeding ecology and habitat use of 32 harbour porpoises by-caught in 4 localities along the Scandinavian coast from the North Sea to the Barents Sea using time-integrative ... [more ▼]

BACKGROUND: We investigated the feeding ecology and habitat use of 32 harbour porpoises by-caught in 4 localities along the Scandinavian coast from the North Sea to the Barents Sea using time-integrative markers: stable isotopes (delta13C, delta15N) and trace elements (Zn, Cu, Fe, Se, total Hg and Cd), in relation to habitat characteristics (bathymetry) and geographic position (latitude). RESULTS: Among the trace elements analysed, only Cd, with an oceanic specific food origin, was found to be useful as an ecological tracer. All other trace elements studied were not useful, most likely because of physiological regulation and/or few specific sources in the food web. The delta13C, delta15N signatures and Cd levels were highly correlated with each other, as well as with local bathymetry and geographic position (latitude). Variation in the isotopic ratios indicated a shift in harbour porpoise's feeding habits from pelagic prey species in deep northern waters to more coastal and/or demersal prey in the relatively shallow North Sea and Skagerrak waters. This result is consistent with stomach content analyses found in the literature. This shift was associated with a northward Cd-enrichment which provides further support to the Cd 'anomaly' previously reported in polar waters and suggests that porpoises in deep northern waters include Cd-contaminated prey in their diet, such as oceanic cephalopods. CONCLUSION: As stable isotopes and Cd provide information in the medium and the long term respectively, the spatial variation found, shows that harbour porpoises experience different ecological regimes during the year along the Scandinavian coasts, adapting their feeding habits to local oceanographic conditions, without performing extensive migration. [less ▲]

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See detailVIABILITY OF THE NORTHEAST ATLANTIC HARBOUR PORPOISE AND SEAL POPULATION (GENETIC AND ECOLOGICAL STUDY)
Das, Krishna ULg; Drouguet, Olivier; Fontaine, Michaël ULg et al

Report (2007)

Harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) and harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) are far more abundant along our coast compared to the beginning of the nineties. Human impact on these species is however hard to ... [more ▼]

Harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) and harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) are far more abundant along our coast compared to the beginning of the nineties. Human impact on these species is however hard to establish, mainly due to lack of information on marine mammal population ecology, density, distribution and diversity. This project aims to gain further knowledge on the viability of the harbour porpoise and harbour seal populations in the North Sea (focusing mainly on its southern Bight) through - The characterisation of their genetic structure and diversity (through mtDNA and microsatellites in harbour porpoises) - A better understanding of their feeding ecology (through δ13C and δ15N measurements in muscles) - The assessment of their susceptibility of being trapped accidentally in fishing nets (post-mortem investigations) Harbour porpoise and harbour seal occupied the top trophic levels but displayed different feeding habits as inferred from their δ13C and δ15N mean values. Harbour porpoises displayed lower mean δ15N values suggesting a lower trophic position likely oriented towards small planktivorous fish such as herring and lesser sandeel. However, both their recent high abundance and their dietary preferences might lead to a higher susceptibility to by-catch as revealed by the significant emergence of net entrapment and net marks revealed by post-mortem investigations. The question rises about the sustainability of these incidental captures. Furthermore, genetic investigations revealed a higher fragmentation of the porpoises collected along the coast of France, Belgium and Netherlands. This apparent fragmentation is of particular importance from a conservation point of view and enhances the fact to protect in priority these last populations. Our study showed importance of multidisciplinary approaches (post-mortem investigations, stable isotope measurements (δ13C and δ15N measurements) and genetic investigations using mtDNA and microsatellites) to apprehend the question of marine mammal survival in our waters. [less ▲]

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See detailEcological and pathological factors related to trace metal concentrations in harbour porpoises Phocoena phocoena from the North Sea and adjacent areas
Das, Krishna ULg; Siebert, Ursula; Fontaine, Michaël ULg et al

in Marine Ecology. Progress Series (2004), 281

There is growing concern about the health status of the harbour porpoise Phocoena phocoena in the North Sea and adjacent areas. The interaction between toxicological results (Zn, Cd, Cu, Fe, Se, Hg ... [more ▼]

There is growing concern about the health status of the harbour porpoise Phocoena phocoena in the North Sea and adjacent areas. The interaction between toxicological results (Zn, Cd, Cu, Fe, Se, Hg), stable isotope data (delta(13)C and delta(15)N) and the most common pathological findings, namely emaciation and lesions of the respiratory system, were investigated in 132 porpoises collected along the coasts of northern France, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Iceland and Norway between 1994 and 2001. The body condition of harbour porpoises stranded on the French, Belgian and German coasts was poor compared to that of by-catch individuals from Iceland and Norway, as reflected by blubber thickness and hepatic to total body-mass ratio. High Zn and Hg concentrations were observed in some porpoises collected along the southern North Sea coast compared to by-catch individuals from Iceland, Norway and the Baltic Sea. Increasing Zn levels were observed with deteriorating health condition (emaciation and bronchopneumonia), while Hg increases were not significant. The increases were not related to shrinking liver mass which remained unchanged. These observations indicate a general redistribution of trace metals within the organs (muscles and blubber to liver), as a result of protein and lipid catabolism. Muscle delta(13)C and delta(15)N values remained unchanged with deteriorating body condition. Cd concentrations were associated only with age and low delta(15)N values, indicating that high Cd concentrations in Iceland and Norway porpoises may be partly diet-related, i.e. a result of Cd contaminated prey. [less ▲]

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See detailCarbon and nitrogen isotopic ratios of the seagrass Posidonia oceanica: Depth-related variations
Lepoint, Gilles ULg; Dauby, Patrick ULg; Fontaine, Michael ULg et al

in Botanica Marina (2003), 46(6), 555-561

Nitrogen (delta(15)N) and carbon (delta(13)C) isotopic compositions of Posidonia oceanica were determined during three seasons along a bathymetric gradient (438 m depth).The delta(15)N values are low (2.2 ... [more ▼]

Nitrogen (delta(15)N) and carbon (delta(13)C) isotopic compositions of Posidonia oceanica were determined during three seasons along a bathymetric gradient (438 m depth).The delta(15)N values are low (2.2+/-0.9%) and variable.They do not show any relation to depth or sampling dates. There is a significant difference between the delta(15)N values of the youngest and the oldest leaves, probably as a result of N resorption and senescing during leaf ageing. The delta(13)C values of young Posidonia leaves vary with depth, showing the relationship between delta(13)C values and primary productivity rate, and the use of a bicarbonate/CO2 mixture as an inorganic carbon source. The delta(13)C values of the oldest P. oceanica leaves are depleted in C-13 compared to those of young leaves. This modification of the C-13 signatures in relation to leaf age is particularly important between 20 and 29 m depth. This modification could be related to photosynthetic rate change during ageing, but also to change in carbohydrate composition and content. [less ▲]

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