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Oecologia. 2004 Nov;141(3):477-88. Epub 2004 Jul 31.

Using stable hydrogen and oxygen isotope measurements of feathers to infer geographical origins of migrating European birds.

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  • 1Canadian Wildlife Service, 115 Perimeter Road, Saskatoon, SK, Canada, S7N 0X4.


Successful application of stable-hydrogen isotope measurements (deltaDf) of feathers to track origins of migratory birds and other wildlife requires a fundamental understanding of the correlation between deltaDf and deuterium patterns in rainfall (deltaDp) over continental scales. A strong correlation between deltaDp and deltaDf has been confirmed for birds and insects in North America, but not yet for other continents. Here, we compare deltaDf data from resident European birds to new deltaDp basemaps for Europe. Three maps, representing growing-season and mean annual deltaDp estimates from an elevation-explicit, detrended interpolation model and growing-season deltaDp estimates from simple Kriging, all indicate that strong isotope gradients occur across Europe with a general depletion occurring in a northeast direction. The feather data, representing 141 individuals of 25 avian species from 38 sites, ranged from -131 to -38 per thousand. Regression analysis showed that strong correlations existed between both mean annual and growing-season deltaDp estimated by detrended interpolation and deltaDf of non-aquatic and non-corvid birds (r2=0.66 and 0.65, respectively). We also examined mean annual and growing-season delta18Op vs. delta18Of for our samples. Both oxygen regressions were similar (r2=0.56 and 0.57, respectively) but poorer than for deuterium. Our study reveals that deltaD measurements of feathers from migratory birds in Europe may be used to track their origin and movements, and so provide a powerful investigative tool for avian migration research in Europe.

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