Main content area

Comparison of trace element and stable isotope approaches to the study of migratory connectivity: an example using two hirundine species breeding in Europe and wintering in Africa

Szép, T., Hobson, K. A., Vallner, J., Piper, S. E., Kovács, B., Szabó, D. Z., Møller, A. P.
Journal für Ornithologie 2009 v.150 no.3 pp. 621-636
Hirundo rustica, Riparia riparia, adults, age structure, analytical methods, breeding, breeding sites, correlation, environmental impact, feathers, food composition, geographical variation, habitat preferences, migratory behavior, migratory birds, molting, nestlings, overwintering, stable isotopes, trace elements, winter, wintering grounds, Africa, Europe
Analyses of stable isotopes and trace elements in feathers may provide important information about location and habitat use during molt, thereby enabling the investigation of migratory connectivity and its ecological consequences in bird species that breed and winter in different areas. We have compared the conclusions arrived at based on the use of these two methods on the same samples of feathers from two migratory birds, the Sand Martin Riparia riparia and the Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica. We investigated the effects of location, age and sex on stable isotope (δ¹³C, δ¹⁵N, δD) and trace element profiles (As, Cd, Mg, Mn, Mo, Se, Sr, Co, Fe, Zn, Li, P, Ti, V, Ag, Cr, Ba, Hg, Pb, S, Ni and Cu). The feathers of adults at the breeding grounds were removed, forcing in birds to grow new feathers at the breeding grounds; this enabled a comparison of composition of feathers grown in Europe and Africa by the same individual. Stable isotope and trace element profiles varied geographically, even at micro-geographic scales, and also among age classes. The results of both methods suggest that food composition and/or source differs between adults and nestlings in the breeding area and that food and/or molting location changes with the age of individuals in Africa. In an attempt to determine the usefulness of data obtained from composition of feathers, we performed discriminant function analyses on information obtained on stable isotopes and trace elements in order to assess the correctness of the classification of group membership. When feathers molted in Africa were compared to those molted in Europe, trace element profiles of the 22 elements generally had a much greater resolution than the stable isotope profiles based on three stable isotopes. The proportion of correctly classified samples was also greater for analyses based on trace elements than for those based on stable isotopes.