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1.  On the use of stable oxygen isotope (δ18O) measurements for tracking avian movements in North America 
Ecology and Evolution  2015;5(3):799-806.
Tracking migratory animals has benefitted using measurements of naturally occurring stable isotopes of hydrogen (δ2H) in keratinous tissues such as hair and feathers to link animal origins to continental patterns or isoscapes of δ2H in precipitation. However, for most taxa, much less information exists on the use of stable oxygen isotope ratios (δ18O) despite the fact that δ2H and δ18O are strongly linked in environmental waters through the meteoric relationship and the possibility of using both isotopes to infer greater information on origins and climatic conditions where tissues are grown. A fundamental requirement of using stable isotopes to assign individuals and populations to origins is the development of a rescaling function linking environmental food web signals to the tissue of interest and for birds, this has not been carried out. Here, we derived the relationship between H and O isotopes in known source feathers of 104 individuals representing 11 species of insectivorous passerines sampled across the strong precipitation isoscape of North America. We determined again a strong expected relationship between feather δ2H (δ2Hf) and long-term amount-weighted precipitation δ2H (δ2Hp; r2 = 0.77), but the corresponding relationship between δ18Of and δ18Op was poor (r2 = 0.32) for the same samples. This suggests that δ2H measurements are currently more useful for assignment of insectivorous songbirds to precipitation isoscapes but does not preclude other uses of the δ18Of data. Currently, mechanisms responsible for the decoupling of H and O isotopes in food webs is poorly known, and we advocate a much broader sampling of both isotopes in the same keratinous tissues across precipitation isotope gradients and across taxa to resolve this issue and to increase the power of using water isotopes to track migratory animals.
PMCID: PMC4328780
Assignment; deuterium; isoscapes; oxygen-18; rescaling function; stable isotopes
2.  Shifty salamanders: transient trophic polymorphism and cannibalism within natural populations of larval ambystomatid salamanders 
Frontiers in Zoology  2014;11(1):76.
Many species of ambystomatid salamanders are dependent upon highly variable temporary wetlands for larval development. High larval densities may prompt the expression of a distinct head morphology that may facilitate cannibalism. However, few studies have characterized structural cannibalism within natural populations of larval salamanders. In this study we used two species of larval salamanders, long-toed (Ambystoma macrodactylum) and ringed salamanders (A. annulatum). Head morphometrics and stable isotopic values of carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) were used to identify the presence or absence of structural cannibalism. Weather conditions were also analyzed as a potential factor associated with the expression of cannibalistic morphology.
Populations of salamander larvae did not consistently exhibit cannibalistic morphologies throughout collection periods. Larval long-toed salamanders exhibited trophic polymorphisms when relatively lower precipitation amounts were observed. Larval ringed salamanders were observed to be cannibalistic but did not exhibit polymorphisms in this study.
Structural cannibalism may be transient in both species; however in long-toed salamanders this morphology is necessary for cannibalism. Ringed salamanders can be cannibalistic without morphological adaptations; however the cannibal morph may prolong the viable time period for cannibalism. Additionally, weather conditions may alter pond hydroperiod, subsequently influencing head morphology and cannibalism.
PMCID: PMC4203864  PMID: 25337147
Cannibalism; Larval salamander; Carbon-13; Trophic polymorphism; Nitrogen-15; Stable isotope
3.  Tracking multi-generational colonization of the breeding grounds by monarch butterflies in eastern North America 
Insect migration may involve movements over multiple breeding generations at continental scales, resulting in formidable challenges to their conservation and management. Using distribution models generated from citizen scientist occurrence data and stable-carbon and -hydrogen isotope measurements, we tracked multi-generational colonization of the breeding grounds of monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) in eastern North America. We found that monarch breeding occurrence was best modelled with geographical and climatic variables resulting in an annual breeding distribution of greater than 12 million km2 that encompassed 99% occurrence probability. Combining occurrence models with stable isotope measurements to estimate natal origin, we show that butterflies which overwintered in Mexico came from a wide breeding distribution, including southern portions of the range. There was a clear northward progression of monarchs over successive generations from May until August when reproductive butterflies began to change direction and moved south. Fifth-generation individuals breeding in Texas in the late summer/autumn tended to originate from northern breeding areas rather than regions further south. Although the Midwest was the most productive area during the breeding season, monarchs that re-colonized the Midwest were produced largely in Texas, suggesting that conserving breeding habitat in the Midwest alone is insufficient to ensure long-term persistence of the monarch butterfly population in eastern North America.
PMCID: PMC3757963  PMID: 23926146
migratory connectivity; Danaus plexippus; stable isotopes; carbon-13; deuterium; insect migration
4.  No evidence for assortative mating within a willow warbler migratory divide 
Frontiers in Zoology  2014;11:52.
In contact zones, genetic mixing of two taxa can be restricted by prezygotic (e.g. assortative mating) or postzygotic (lower fitness of hybrid offspring) barriers, or a combination of the two. A hybrid zone between two willow warbler subspecies (Phylloscopus trochilus trochilus, P. t. acredula) with distinctive migratory strategies occurs in central Sweden. These subspecies exhibit differences in migratory direction and distance, resulting in geographically distinct wintering areas in Africa. The subspecies may have diverged from a common refuge after the last ice age, and neutral genetic markers are homogeneous across their range. By contrast, several phenotypic traits and genetic markers of two chromosomal regions previously identified show steep clines across the divide. The evolutionary forces that maintain this migratory divide remain unknown. Here we use plumage colour, morphology, genetic markers and feather stable nitrogen-isotopes (δ15N) to assess if assortative mating between migratory phenotypes could be acting as a possible mechanism for keeping the two forms genetically separate and maintaining the migratory divide. We colour-ringed a willow warbler breeding population in the central part of the hybrid zone and observed the breeding population to assess phenotypic and genotypic traits of social pairs.
Our data suggest that wintering area and genetic ancestry had an effect on male arrival time to the breeding grounds which could contribute to assortment. However, evidence for assortative mating could not be detected based on a comparison of plumage colour, morphology and δ15N between social mates.
This finding was strengthened by analyses of subspecies-specific genetic markers, which allowed us to identify the presence of a large proportion of potential hybrids and backcrosses at the study site. Our results supported the hypothesis that pre-mating isolation in willow warblers is weak, resulting in extensive hybridisation across the migratory divide.
PMCID: PMC4105873  PMID: 25053967
Hybrid zone; Prezygotic selection; Postzygotic selection; Reproductive isolation; Willow warbler; Phylloscopus trochilus; Nitrogen-15
5.  Identifying the African Wintering Grounds of Hybrid Flycatchers Using a Multi–Isotope (δ2H, δ13C, δ15N) Assignment Approach 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(5):e98075.
Migratory routes and wintering grounds can have important fitness consequences, which can lead to divergent selection on populations or taxa differing in their migratory itinerary. Collared (Ficedula albicollis) and pied (F. hypoleuca) flycatchers breeding in Europe and wintering in different sub-Saharan regions have distinct migratory routes on the eastern and western sides of the Sahara desert, respectively. In an earlier paper, we showed that hybrids of the two species did not incur reduced winter survival, which would be expected if their migration strategy had been a mix of the parent species' strategies potentially resulting in an intermediate route crossing the Sahara desert to different wintering grounds. Previously, we compared isotope ratios and found no significant difference in stable-nitrogen isotope ratios (δ15N) in winter-grown feathers between the parental species and hybrids, but stable-carbon isotope ratios (δ13C) in hybrids significantly clustered only with those of pied flycatchers. We followed up on these findings and additionally analyzed the same feathers for stable-hydrogen isotope ratios (δ2H) and conducted spatially explicit multi-isotope assignment analyses. The assignment results overlapped with presumed wintering ranges of the two species, highlighting the efficacy of the method. In contrast to earlier findings, hybrids clustered with both parental species, though most strongly with pied flycatcher.
PMCID: PMC4029901  PMID: 24847717
6.  Tracking Natal Dispersal in a Coastal Population of a Migratory Songbird Using Feather Stable Isotope (δ2H, δ34S) Tracers 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(4):e94437.
Adult birds tend to show high fidelity to their breeding territory or disperse over relatively short distances. Gene flow among avian populations is thus expected to occur primarily through natal dispersal. Although natal dispersal is a critical demographic process reflecting the area over which population dynamics take place, low recapture rates of birds breeding for the first time have limited our ability to reliably estimate dispersal rates and distances. Stable isotope approaches can elucidate origins of unmarked birds and so we generated year- and age-specific δ2H and δ34S feather isoscapes (ca. 180 000 km2) of coastal-breeding Ovenbirds (Seiurus aurocapilla) and used bivariate probability density functions to assign the likely natal areas of 35 males recruited as first-year breeders into a population located in northwestern New Brunswick, Canada. Most individuals (80–94% depending on the magnitude of an age correction factor used; i.e. 28–33 out of 35) were classified as residents (i.e. fledged within our study area) and estimated minimum dispersal distances of immigrants were between 40 and 240 km. Even when considering maximum dispersal distances, the likely origin of most first-year breeders was<200 km from our study area. Our method identified recruitment into our population from large geographic areas with relatively few samples whereas previous mark-recapture based methods have required orders of magnitude more individuals to describe dispersal at such geographic scales. Natal dispersal movements revealed here suggest the spatial scale over which many population processes are taking place and we suggest that conservation plans aiming to maintain populations of Ovenbirds and ecologically-similar species should consider management units within 100 or at most 200 km of target breeding populations.
PMCID: PMC3989223  PMID: 24740314
7.  Contrasting Patterns of Genetic Differentiation among Blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla) with Divergent Migratory Orientations in Europe 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(11):e81365.
Migratory divides are thought to facilitate behavioral, ecological, and genetic divergence among populations with different migratory routes. However, it is currently contentious how much genetic divergence is needed to maintain distinct migratory behavior across migratory divides. Here we investigate patterns of neutral genetic differentiation among Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) populations with different migratory strategies across Europe. We compare the level of genetic divergence of populations migrating to southwestern (SW) or southeastern (SE) wintering areas with birds wintering in the British Isles following a recently established northwesterly (NW) migration route. The migratory divide between SW and SE wintering areas can be interpreted as a result of a re-colonization process after the last glaciation. Thus we predicted greater levels of genetic differentiation among the SW/SE populations. However, a lack of genetic differentiation was found between SW and SE populations, suggesting that interbreeding likely occurs among Blackcaps with different migratory orientations across a large area; therefore the SW/SE migratory divide can be seen as diffuse, broad band and is, at best, a weak isolating barrier. Conversely, weak, albeit significant genetic differentiation was evident between NW and SW migrants breeding sympatrically in southern Germany, suggesting a stronger isolating mechanism may be acting in this population. Populations located within/near the SW/SE contact zone were the least genetically divergent from NW migrants, confirming NW migrants likely originated from within the contact zone. Significant isolation-by-distance was found among eastern Blackcap populations (i.e. SE migrants), but not among western populations (i.e. NW and SW migrants), revealing different patterns of genetic divergence among Blackcap populations in Europe. We discuss possible explanations for the genetic structure of European Blackcaps and how gene flow influences the persistence of divergent migratory behaviors.
PMCID: PMC3836794  PMID: 24278428
8.  Individual differences in migratory behavior shape population genetic structure and microhabitat choice in sympatric blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla) 
Ecology and Evolution  2013;3(12):4278-4289.
In migratory birds, traits such as orientation and distance are known to have a strong genetic background, and they often exhibit considerable within-population variation. How this variation relates to evolutionary responses to ongoing selection is unknown because the underlying mechanisms that translate environmental changes into population genetic changes are unclear. We show that within-population genetic structure in southern German blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla) is related to individual differences in migratory behavior. Our 3-year study revealed a positive correlation between individual migratory origins, denoted via isotope (δ2H) values, and genetic distances. Genetic diversity and admixture differed not only across a recently established migratory polymorphism with NW- and SW-migrating birds but also across δ2H clusters within the same migratory route. Our results suggest assortment based on individual migratory origins which would facilitate evolutionary responses. We scrutinized arrival times and microhabitat choice as potential mechanisms mediating between individual variation in migratory behavior and assortment. We found significant support that microhabitat choice, rather than timing of arrival, is associated with individual variation in migratory origins. Moreover, examining genetic diversity across the migratory divide, we found migrants following the NW route to be genetically more distinct from each other compared with migrants following the traditional SW route. Our study suggests that migratory behavior shapes population genetic structure in blackcaps not only across the migratory divide but also on an individual level independent of the divide. Thus, within-population variation in migratory behavior might play an important role in translating environmental change into genetic change.
PMCID: PMC3853571  PMID: 24324877
Blackcap; bottleneck; micro-evolution; microhabitat choice; migratory connectivity; migratory divide; spatial isolation; stable isotopes
9.  Switching Hemispheres: A New Migration Strategy for the Disjunct Argentinean Breeding Population of Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e55654.
Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) breed almost exclusively in the Northern Hemisphere. However, since the early 1980's, a small disjunct breeding population has become established in eastern Argentina, presumably by birds previously derived from those breeding in North America. Currently, it is unknown where these individuals go following breeding and how they have adjusted to a reversal in phenology. Their austral wintering period corresponds to the breeding period of the northern ancestral population and so they can potentially return to these more traditional breeding sites or they may occupy other South American wintering regions left vacant by conspecifics returning to the Northern Hemisphere.
Principal Findings
We used a three-isotope (δ13C, δ15N, δ2H) approach to investigate potential wintering areas in Central and South America of individuals breeding in Argentina. Feather isotope values differed from those expected and measured at local breeding sites in Argentina indicating molt after the austral breeding period and away from the breeding grounds. Potential molting origins were identified applying likelihood-based assignment methods to a δ2H isoscape for South America and dichotomous prior information on the distribution of C3 and C4 vegetation types based on modeled vegetation-δ13C values. Barn Swallows now breeding in Argentina have changed their migratory behavior but presumably use the same cues as those used by the ancestral population, molting their feathers during the austral winter, likely in north-eastern South America.
PMCID: PMC3561328  PMID: 23383257
10.  Isotopic Evidence That Dragonflies (Pantala flavescens) Migrating through the Maldives Come from the Northern Indian Subcontinent 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(12):e52594.
Large numbers of the Globe Skimmer dragonfly (Pantala flavescens) appear in the Maldives every October–December. Since they cannot breed on these largely waterless islands, it has recently been suggested that they are “falling out” during a trans-oceanic flight from India to East Africa. In addition, it has been suggested that this trans-oceanic crossing is just one leg of a multi-generational migratory circuit covering about 14,000–18,000 km. The dragonflies are presumed to accomplish this remarkable feat by riding high-altitude winds associated with the Inter-tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). While there is considerable evidence for this migratory circuit, much of that evidence is circumstantial. Recent developments in the application of stable isotope analyses to track migratory dragonflies include the establishment of direct associations between dragonfly wing chitin δ2H values with those derived from long-term δ2H precipitation isoscapes. We applied this approach by measuring wing chitin δ2H values in 49 individual Pantala flavescens from the November–December migration through the Maldives. Using a previously established spatial calibration algorithm for dragonflies, the mean wing δ2H value of −117±16 ‰ corresponded to a predicted mean natal ambient water source of −81 ‰, which resulted in a probabilistic origin of northern India, and possibly further north and east. This strongly suggests that the migratory circuit of this species in this region is longer than previously suspected, and could possibly involve a remarkable trans-Himalayan high-altitude traverse.
PMCID: PMC3527571  PMID: 23285106
11.  Mast Pulses Shape Trophic Interactions between Fluctuating Rodent Populations in a Primeval Forest 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(12):e51267.
How different functional responses of consumers exploiting pulsed resources affect community dynamics is an ongoing question in ecology. Tree masting is a common resource pulse in terrestrial ecosystems that can drive rodent population cycles. Using stable isotope (δ13C, δ15N) analyses, we investigated the dietary response of two fluctuating rodent species, the yellow-necked mouse Apodemus flavicollis and the bank vole Myodes glareolus, to mast events in Białowieża Forest (NE Poland). Rodent hair samples were obtained non-invasively from faeces of their predators for an 11-year period that encompassed two mast events. Spectacular seed crops of deciduous trees, namely oak Quercus robur and hornbeam Carpinus betulus, occur after several intermediate years of moderate seed production, with a post-mast year characterised by a nil crop. While a Bayesian isotopic (SIAR) mixing model showed a variety of potential vegetation inputs to rodent diets, the isotopic niche of the yellow-necked mouse was strongly associated with mast of deciduous trees (>80% of diet), showing no variation among years of different seed crop. However, bank voles showed a strong functional response; in mast years the vole shifted its diet from herbs in deciduous forest (∼66% of diet) to mast (∼74%). Only in mast years did the isotopic niche of both rodent species overlap. Previous research showed that bank voles, subordinate and more generalist than mice, showed higher fluctuations in numbers in response to masting. This study provides unique data on the functional response of key pulse consumers in forest food webs, and contributes to our understanding of rodent population fluctuations and the mechanisms governing pulse–consumer interactions.
PMCID: PMC3519590  PMID: 23251475
12.  Lekking birds in a tropical forest forego sex for migration 
Biology Letters  2011;7(5):661-663.
Facultative, partially migratory animals provide a contemporary window into the evolution of migration, offering rare opportunities to examine the life-history trade-offs associated with migration. For the first time, to our knowledge, we describe the nature of these trade-offs, using a lek-breeding tropical bird, the white-ruffed manakin (Corapipo altera). Previous evidence indicated that weather drives post-breeding migration to lower elevations bringing condition-related benefits. Using elevation-sensitive stable isotope measurements and more than 1200 h of behavioural observations, we show that male manakins which migrate incur costs of diminished social status and matings with females the following breeding season. Because migratory tendency depends on inter-annual variation in weather, physical costs of displays and breeding prospects the following year, migratory decisions are subject to both natural and sexual selection, with the outcome of such decisions linked to changing climatic regimes.
PMCID: PMC3169044  PMID: 21471048
carry-over effects; evolution of migration; life-history trade-offs
13.  Adapting to a Changing World: Unraveling the Role of Man-Made Habitats as Alternative Feeding Areas for Slender-Billed Gull (Chroicocephalus genei) 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(10):e47551.
Current rates of wildlife habitat loss have placed increasing demands on managers to develop, validate and implement tools aimed at improving our ability to evaluate such impacts on wildlife. Here, we present a case study conducted at the Natural Area of Doñana (SW Spain) where remote sensing and stable isotope (δ13C, δ15N) analyses of individuals were combined to unravel (1) the effect of variations in availability of natural food resources (i.e. from natural marshes) on reproductive performance of a Slender-billed Gull (Chroicocephalus genei) population, and (2) the role of two adjacent, artificial systems (a fish farm and saltmines) as alternate anthropogenic feeding areas. Based on long-term (1983–2004) remote-sensing, we inferred the average extent of flooded area at the marshland (a proxy to natural resource availability) annually. Estimated flooded areas (ranging from extreme drought [ca. 151 ha, 1995] to high moisture [15,049 ha, 2004]) were positively related to reproductive success of gulls (estimated for the 1993–2004 period, and ranging from ca. 0 to 1.7 fledglings per breeding pairs), suggesting that habitat availability played a role in determining their reproductive performance. Based on blood δ13C and δ15N values of fledglings, 2001–2004, and a Bayesian isotopic mixing model, we conclude that saltmines acted as the main alternative foraging habitat for gulls, with relative contributions increasing as the extent of marshland decreased. Although adjacent, anthropogenic systems have been established as the preferred breeding sites for this gull population, dietary switches towards exploitation of alternative (anthropogenic) food resources negatively affected the reproductive output of this species, thus challenging the perception that these man-made systems are necessarily a reliable buffer against loss of natural feeding habitats. The methodology and results derived from this study could be extended to a large suite of threatened natural communities worldwide, thus providing a useful framework for management and conservation.
PMCID: PMC3477125  PMID: 23094062
14.  Solving a Migration Riddle Using Isoscapes: House Martins from a Dutch Village Winter over West Africa 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(9):e45005.
The ability to connect breeding, stopover and wintering locations of populations of migratory birds greatly enhances our understanding of the phenomenon of migration and improves our chances of effectively conserving these species. Among Palearctic-Afrotropical migratory species, aerial insectivores like the house martin (Delichon urbicum) are sensitive to factors influencing the availability of flying insects, and have declined in recent decades. The strict aerial behaviour of martins severely limits ring recoveries on wintering grounds and so there is a dearth of information on where European breeding populations over-winter in Africa, and the relative effects of population regulation on breeding vs. wintering grounds. We used a newly developed multi-isotope (δ2H, δ13C, δ15N) feather isoscape for Africa together with inferences from summarized ring return data based on longitude, to assign winter origins to birds captured at a breeding colony in The Netherlands.
Principal Findings
Based on isotopic analyses of winter-grown martin feathers, we used a likelihood-based assignment approach to describe potential wintering locations where molt occurred of individual house martins from a Dutch colony by assigning them to four potential isotopically distinct clusters in Africa. We found the overwhelming majority of Dutch martins were assigned to a geographical cluster associated with West Africa.
The existence of strong isotopic gradients and patterns in African foodwebs that support migratory wildlife allows for the spatial assignment of tissues grown there. The assignment of Dutch house martins to wintering grounds primarily in West Africa was in strong agreement with independent and indirect methods used to infer winter origins of this species based on the association between the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) in Africa and population patterns in Italy and the United Kingdom. These confirmatory data-sets underscore the importance of suitable habitats in West Africa to the conservation of migratory aerial insectivores and other species.
PMCID: PMC3448620  PMID: 23028734
15.  Advances in Linking Wintering Migrant Birds to Their Breeding-Ground Origins Using Combined Analyses of Genetic and Stable Isotope Markers 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(8):e43627.
An enduring problem in avian ecology and conservation is linking breeding and wintering grounds of migratory species. As migratory species and populations vary in the degree to which individuals from distinct breeding locales mix on stop-over sites and wintering grounds, establishing migratory connectivity informs our understanding of population demography and species management. We present a new Bayesian approach for inferring breeding grounds of wintering birds of unknown origins in North America. We incorporate prior information from analysis of genetic markers into geographic origin assignment based upon stable-hydrogen isotope analysis of feathers (δ2Hf), using the Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus). Likely geographic origins derived from analyses of DNA microsatellites were used as priors for Bayesian analyses in which birds were assigned to a breeding-ground origin using their δ2Hf values. As with most applications of Bayesian methods, our approach greatly improved the results (i.e. decreased the size of the potential area of origin). Area of origin decreased by 3 to 5-fold on average, but ranged up to a 10-fold improvement. We recommend this approach in future studies of migratory connectivity and suggest that our methodology could be applied more broadly to the study of dispersal, sources of productivity of migratory populations, and a range of evolutionary phenomena.
PMCID: PMC3423384  PMID: 22916285
16.  Disease Dynamics and Bird Migration—Linking Mallards Anas platyrhynchos and Subtype Diversity of the Influenza A Virus in Time and Space 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(4):e35679.
The mallard Anas platyrhynchos is a reservoir species for influenza A virus in the northern hemisphere, with particularly high prevalence rates prior to as well as during its prolonged autumn migration. It has been proposed that the virus is brought from the breeding grounds and transmitted to conspecifics during subsequent staging during migration, and so a better understanding of the natal origin of staging ducks is vital to deciphering the dynamics of viral movement pathways. Ottenby is an important stopover site in southeast Sweden almost halfway downstream in the major Northwest European flyway, and is used by millions of waterfowl each year. Here, mallards were captured and sampled for influenza A virus infection, and positive samples were subtyped in order to study possible links to the natal area, which were determined by a novel approach combining banding recovery data and isotopic measurements (δ2H) of feathers grown on breeding grounds. Geographic assignments showed that the core natal areas of studied mallards were in Estonia, southern and central Finland, and northwestern Russia. This study demonstrates a clear temporal succession of latitudes of natal origin during the course of autumn migration. We also demonstrate a corresponding and concomitant shift in virus subtypes. Acknowledging that these two different patterns were based in part upon different data, a likely interpretation worth further testing is that the early arriving birds with more proximate origins have different influenza A subtypes than the more distantly originating late autumn birds. If true, this knowledge would allow novel insight into the origins and transmission of the influenza A virus among migratory hosts previously unavailable through conventional approaches.
PMCID: PMC3335010  PMID: 22536424
17.  Linking Hydrogen (δ2H) Isotopes in Feathers and Precipitation: Sources of Variance and Consequences for Assignment to Isoscapes 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(4):e35137.
Tracking small migrant organisms worldwide has been hampered by technological and recovery limitations and sampling bias inherent in exogenous markers. Naturally occurring stable isotopes of H (δ2H) in feathers provide an alternative intrinsic marker of animal origin due to the predictable spatial linkage to underlying hydrologically driven flow of H isotopes into foodwebs. This approach can assess the likelihood that a migrant animal originated from a given location(s) within a continent but requires a robust algorithm linking H isotopes in tissues of interest to an appropriate hydrological isotopic spatio-temporal pattern, such as weighted-annual rainfall. However, a number of factors contribute to or alter expected isotopic patterns in animals. We present results of an extensive investigation into taxonomic and environmental factors influencing feather δ2H patterns across North America.
Principal Findings
Stable isotope data were measured from 544 feathers from 40 species and 140 known locations. For δ2H, the most parsimonious model explaining 83% of the isotopic variance was found with amount-weighted growing-season precipitation δ2H, foraging substrate and migratory strategy.
This extensive H isotopic analysis of known-origin feathers of songbirds in North America and elsewhere reconfirmed the strong coupling between tissue δ2H and global hydrologic δ2H patterns, and accounting for variance associated with foraging substrate and migratory strategy, can be used in conservation and research for the purpose of assigning birds and other species to their approximate origin.
PMCID: PMC3324428  PMID: 22509393
18.  Migratory Connectivity of the Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus): Patterns of Spring Re-Colonization in Eastern North America 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(3):e31891.
Each year, millions of monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) migrate up to 3000 km from their overwintering grounds in central Mexico to breed in eastern North America. Malcolm et al. (1993) articulated two non-mutually exclusive hypotheses to explain how Monarchs re-colonize North America each spring. The ‘successive brood’ hypothesis proposes that monarchs migrate from Mexico to the Gulf Coast, lay eggs and die, leaving northern re-colonization of the breeding range to subsequent generations. The ‘single sweep’ hypothesis proposes that overwintering monarchs continue to migrate northward after arriving on the Gulf coast and may reach the northern portion of the breeding range, laying eggs along the way. To examine these hypotheses, we sampled monarchs throughout the northern breeding range and combined stable-hydrogen isotopes (δD) to estimate natal origin with wing wear scores to differentiate between individuals born in the current vs. previous year. Similar to Malcolm et al. (1993), we found that the majority of the northern breeding range was re-colonized by the first generation of monarchs (90%). We also estimated that a small number of individuals (10%) originated directly from Mexico and, therefore adopted a sweep strategy. Contrary to Malcolm et al. (1993), we found that 62% of monarchs sampled in the Great Lakes originated from the Central U.S., suggesting that this region is important for sustaining production in the northern breeding areas. Our results provide new evidence of re-colonization patterns in monarchs and contribute important information towards identifying productive breeding regions of this unique migratory insect.
PMCID: PMC3302836  PMID: 22427813
19.  Monarch butterflies cross the Appalachians from the west to recolonize the east coast of North America 
Biology Letters  2010;7(1):43-46.
Each spring, millions of monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) migrate from overwintering sites in Mexico to recolonize eastern North America. However, few monarchs are found along the east coast of the USA until mid-summer. Brower (Brower, L. P. 1996 J. Exp. Biol. 199, 93–103.) proposed that east coast recolonization is accomplished by individuals migrating from the west over the Appalachians, but to date no evidence exists to support this hypothesis. We used hydrogen (δD) and carbon (δ13C) stable isotope measurements to estimate natal origins of 90 monarchs sampled from 17 sites along the eastern United States coast. We found the majority of monarchs (88%) originated in the mid-west and Great Lakes regions, providing, to our knowledge, the first direct evidence that second generation monarchs born in June complete a (trans-) longitudinal migration across the Appalachian mountains. The remaining individuals (12%) originated from parents that migrated directly from the Gulf coast during early spring. Our results provide evidence of a west to east longitudinal migration and provide additional rationale for conserving east coast populations by identifying breeding sources.
PMCID: PMC3030879  PMID: 20630891
Danaus plexippus; insect migration; migratory connectivity; stable isotopes
20.  Tracking Cats: Problems with Placing Feline Carnivores on δ18O, δD Isoscapes 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(9):e24601.
Several felids are endangered and threatened by the illegal wildlife trade. Establishing geographic origin of tissues of endangered species is thus crucial for wildlife crime investigations and effective conservation strategies. As shown in other species, stable isotope analysis of hydrogen and oxygen in hair (δDh, δ18Oh) can be used as a tool for provenance determination. However, reliably predicting the spatial distribution of δDh and δ18Oh requires confirmation from animal tissues of known origin and a detailed understanding of the isotopic routing of dietary nutrients into felid hair.
We used coupled δDh and δ18Oh measurements from the North American bobcat (Lynx rufus) and puma (Puma concolor) with precipitation-based assignment isoscapes to test the feasibility of isotopic geo-location of felidae. Hairs of felid and rabbit museum specimens from 75 sites across the United States and Canada were analyzed. Bobcat and puma lacked a significant correlation between H/O isotopes in hair and local waters, and also exhibited an isotopic decoupling of δ18Oh and δDh. Conversely, strong δD and δ18O coupling was found for key prey, eastern cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus; hair) and white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus; collagen, bone phosphate).
Puma and bobcat hairs do not adhere to expected pattern of H and O isotopic variation predicted by precipitation isoscapes for North America. Thus, using bulk hair, felids cannot be placed on δ18O and δD isoscapes for use in forensic investigations. The effective application of isotopes to trace the provenance of feline carnivores is likely compromised by major controls of their diet, physiology and metabolism on hair δ18O and δD related to body water budgets. Controlled feeding experiments, combined with single amino acid isotope analysis of diets and hair, are needed to reveal mechanisms and physiological traits explaining why felid hair does not follow isotopic patterns demonstrated in many other taxa.
PMCID: PMC3170367  PMID: 21931770
21.  Foraging segregation between two closely related shearwaters breeding in sympatry 
Biology Letters  2009;5(4):545-548.
Trophic segregation has been proposed as a major mechanism explaining the coexistence of closely related animal taxa. However, how such segregation varies throughout the annual cycle is poorly understood. Here, we examined the feeding ecology of the two subspecies of Cory's shearwater, Calonectris diomedea diomedea and Calonectris diomedea borealis, breeding in sympatry in a Mediterranean colony. To study trophic segregation at different stages, we combined the analysis of isotope values (δ 15N, δ 13C) in blood obtained during incubation and in feathers moulted during chick-rearing and wintering periods with satellite-tracking data during the chick-rearing period. Satellite-tracking and stable isotope data of the first primary feather revealed that C. d. borealis foraged mainly in the Atlantic whereas C. d. diomedea foraged exclusively in the Mediterranean. This spatial segregation could reflect the foraging behaviour of the C. d. borealis individuals before they arrived at the Mediterranean colony. Alternatively, greater wing loading of C. d. borealis individuals may confer the ability to fly across the strong winds occurring at the at the Gibraltar strait. Isotope values of the eighth secondary feather also support segregation in wintering areas between the two forms: C. d. diomedea wintered mainly in association with the Canary current, whereas C. d. borealis wintered in the South African coast. Overall, our results show that spatial segregation in foraging areas can display substantial variation throughout the annual cycle and is probably a major mechanism facilitating coexistence between closely related taxa.
PMCID: PMC2781917  PMID: 19364709
feeding ecology; migration; satellite tracking; seabirds; stable isotopes
22.  A Method for Investigating Population Declines of Migratory Birds Using Stable Isotopes: Origins of Harvested Lesser Scaup in North America 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(11):e7915.
Elucidating geographic locations from where migratory birds are recruited into adult breeding populations is a fundamental but largely elusive goal in conservation biology. This is especially true for species that breed in remote northern areas where field-based demographic assessments are logistically challenging.
Here we used hydrogen isotopes (δD) to determine natal origins of migrating hatch-year lesser scaup (Aythya affinis) harvested by hunters in the United States from all North American flyways during the hunting seasons of 1999–2000 (n = 412) and 2000–2001 (n = 455). We combined geospatial, observational, and analytical data sources, including known scaup breeding range, δD values of feathers from juveniles at natal sites, models of δD for growing-season precipitation, and scaup band-recovery data to generate probabilistic natal origin landscapes for individual scaup. We then used Monte Carlo integration to model assignment uncertainty from among individual δD variance estimates from birds of known molt origin and also from band-return data summarized at the flyway level. We compared the distribution of scaup natal origin with the distribution of breeding population counts obtained from systematic long-term surveys.
Our analysis revealed that the proportion of young scaup produced in the northern (above 60°N) versus the southern boreal and Prairie-Parkland region was inversely related to the proportions of breeding adults using these regions, suggesting that despite having a higher relative abundance of breeding adults, the northern boreal region was less productive for scaup recruitment into the harvest than more southern biomes. Our approach for evaluating population declines of migratory birds (particularly game birds) synthesizes all available distributional data and exploits the advantages of intrinsic isotopic markers that link individuals to geography.
PMCID: PMC2776275  PMID: 19946360
23.  Stable isotope evidence of diverse species-specific and individual wintering strategies in seabirds 
Biology Letters  2006;2(2):301-303.
Although there is increasing evidence that climatic variations during the non-breeding season shape population dynamics of seabirds, most aspects of their winter distribution and ecology remain essentially unknown. We used stable isotope signatures in feathers to infer and compare the moulting (wintering) habitat of subantarctic petrels breeding at two distant localities (South Georgia and Kerguelen). Petrels showed species-specific wintering habitat preferences, with a similar pattern of latitudinal segregation for all but one taxon. At both localities, δ13C values indicated that blue petrels (Halobaena caerulea) moult in Antarctic waters, South Georgian diving petrels (Pelecanoides georgicus) in the vicinity of the archipelagos and/or in the Polar Frontal Zone and Antarctic prions (Pachyptila desolata) in warmer waters. In contrast, common diving petrels (Pelecanoides urinatrix) showed divergent strategies, with low and high intrapopulation variation at South Georgia and Kerguelen, respectively. Birds from Kerguelen dispersed over a much wider range of habitats, from coastal to oceanic waters and from Antarctica to the subtropics, whereas those from South Georgia wintered mainly in waters around the archipelago. This study is the first to show such striking between-population heterogeneity in individual wintering strategies, which could have important implications for likely demographic responses to environmental perturbation.
PMCID: PMC1618904  PMID: 17148388
moulting period; individual specialization; procellariiform seabird; Southern Ocean; Antarctica
24.  Stable isotopes, beaks and predators: a new tool to study the trophic ecology of cephalopods, including giant and colossal squids 
Cephalopods play a key role in the marine environment but knowledge of their feeding habits is limited by lack of data. Here, we have developed a new tool to investigate their feeding ecology by combining the use of their predators as biological samplers together with measurements of the stable isotopic signature of their beaks. Cephalopod beaks are chitinous hard structures that resist digestion and the stable isotope ratios of carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) are indicators of the foraging areas and trophic levels of consumers, respectively. First, a comparison of δ13C and δ15N values of different tissues from the same individuals showed that beaks were slightly enriched in 13C but highly impoverished in 15N compared with lipid-free muscle tissues. Second, beaks from the same species showed a progressive increase in their δ15N values with increasing size, which is in agreement with a dietary shift from lower to higher trophic levels during cephalopod growth. In the same way, there was an increase in the δ15N signature of various parts of the same lower beaks in the order rostrum, lateral walls and wings, which reflects the progressive growth and chitinization of the beaks in parallel with dietary changes. Third, we investigated the trophic structure of a cephalopod community for the first time. Values of δ15N indicate that cephalopods living in slope waters of the subantarctic Kerguelen Islands (n=18 species) encompass almost three distinct trophic levels, with a continuum of two levels between crustacean- and fish-eaters and a distinct higher trophic level occupied by the colossal squid Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni. δ13C values demonstrated that cephalopods grow in three different marine ecosystems, with 16 species living and developing in Kerguelen waters and two species migrating from either Antarctica (Slosarczykovia circumantarctica) or the subtropics (the giant squid Architeuthis dux). The stable isotopic signature of beaks accumulated in predators' stomachs therefore revealed new trophic relationships and migration patterns and is a powerful tool to investigate the role of the poorly known cephalopods in the marine environment.
PMCID: PMC1559839  PMID: 16048776
Antarctica; community; octopus; ontogenic changes; Southern Ocean predators
25.  Heterogeneity in stable isotope profiles predicts coexistence of populations of barn swallows Hirundo rustica differing in morphology and reproductive performance. 
Population studies assume that individuals belonging to a study population are homogeneous for natal and breeding origin, although this assumption is rarely tested. We tested for heterogeneity in stable-isotope profiles (delta15N, delta13C, deltaD) of feathers grown in the African winter quarters from a Danish breeding population of adult barn swallows, Hirundo rustica. Deuterium isotope values did not provide useful information on population segregation of wintering swallows in Africa. However, both delta15N and delta13C values showed a clearly bimodal distribution with 6% belonging to one category and the remaining birds belonging to another category, resulting in this population comprising three categories of birds. Adults belonging to the two categories of delta13C isotope profiles differed weakly in morphology for several different characters. The frequency and the size of second broods differed between categories of delta13C isotope profiles. Phenotypes of nestlings from the first brood in terms of tarsus length, body mass and T-cell response differed significantly between the two delta15N isotope categories, suggesting that conditions during winter carried over to the breeding season at least as late as the first brood. Polymorphism can be maintained only if fitness is similar for birds from categories of isotope profiles. We suggest that fluctuating selection or migration-selection balance may maintain the observed polymorphism.
PMCID: PMC1691733  PMID: 15306333

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