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An examination of stable hydrogen isotope (δD) variation in adult and juvenile feathers from a migratory songbird

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Stable hydrogen isotopes (δD) can help predict geographic origin of tissue growth but within-site variation of feather δD (δDf) exists. Multiple hypotheses explain δDf variation: moult timing, physiology, and spatio-temporal differences in source deuterium, but there have been few direct tests of these factors. We assessed δDf variation within a breeding population of Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina (Gmelin, 1789)), by sampling feathers from hatch-year birds, returning adults (after migration), and to eliminate confounding variables from newly grown adult primary feathers during moult. We evaluated potential mechanisms explaining δDf variation by examining intraindividual variation (different feather types), precipitation δD, prey δD, corticosterone (CORT), and breeding productivity. In addition, we directly compared δDf of newly grown primary feathers to δD blood hematocrit (δDb). We found significant differences in δDf between years and age classes and observed no significant intraindividual variation. δDf and δDb were not significantly correlated. CORT weakly contributed to δDf, but there are other factors influencing δDf. Ten percent of all feather samples had outlying δDf values, and were likely grown away from the breeding grounds. Our results document intrapopulation and intraindividual variation of δDf at a single location and indicated that age class and year-to-year differences contributed to high δDf variance.

Keywords: Hylocichla mustelina; Wood Thrush; blood hematocrit; deuterium variation; feathers; grive des bois; hématocrite; moult; mue; plumes; precipitation; précipitations; variations du deutérium

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Biology, York University, Toronto, ON M3J 1P3, Canada. 2: Department of Geological Sciences and Geological Engineering, Queen’s University, Kingston, ON K7L 3N6, Canada.

Publication date: May 13, 2012

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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