Combining stable isotope analyses and geolocation to reveal kittiwake migration

Determining migratory strategies of seabirds is still a major challenge due to their relative inaccessibility. Small geolocators are improving this knowledge, but not all birds can be tracked. Stable isotope ratios in feathers can help us to understand migration, but we still have insufficient baseline knowledge for linking feather signatures to movements amongst distinct water masses. To understand the migration strategies of kittiwakes Rissa tridactyla and the link between stable isotopes in feathers and the areas in which these were grown, we tracked 6 kittiwakes from Hornoya, Norway, with light level geolocators over 1 yr. Then we analysed the stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen in their 1st and 7th primary feathers as well as in the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th and 10th primaries of 12 birds found freshly dead in the same breeding colony. After breeding, all tracked birds moved east of the Svalbard Archipelago and subsequently migrated to the Labrador Sea. Thereafter, birds showed individual variation in migration strategies: 3 travelled to the NE Atlantic, whereas the others remained in the Labrador Sea until the end of the wintering period. Changes in stable isotope signatures from the 1st to the 10th primary feathers corresponded well to the sequence of movements during migration and the area in which we inferred that each feather was grown. Thus, by combining information on moult patterns and tracking data, we demonstrate that stable isotope analysis of feathers can be used to trace migratory movements of seabirds.


Publication status:
Authors: González-Solís, Jacob, Smyrli, Maria, Militão, Teresa, Gremillet, David, Tveraa, Torkild, Phillips, Richard A., Boulinier, Thierry

On this site: Richard Phillips
1 January, 2011
Marine Ecology Progress Series / 435
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