Validating the use of intrinsic markers in body feathers to identify inter-individual differences in non-breeding areas of northern fulmars

Lucy R. Quinn, Andrew A. Meharg, Jan A. van Franeker, Isla M. Graham, Paul M. Thompson

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Abstract

Many wildlife studies use chemical analyses to explore spatio-temporal variation in diet, migratory patterns and contaminant exposure. Intrinsic markers are particularly valuable for studying non-breeding marine predators, when direct methods of investigation are rarely feasible. However, any inferences regarding foraging ecology are dependent upon the time scale over which tissues such as feathers are formed. In this study, we validate the use of body feathers for studying non-breeding foraging patterns in a pelagic seabird, the northern fulmar. Analysis of carcasses of successfully breeding adult fulmars indicated that body feathers moulted between September and March, whereas analyses of carcasses and activity patterns suggested that wing feather and tail feather moult occurred during more restricted periods (September to October and September to January, respectively). By randomly sampling relevant body feathers, average values for individual birds were shown to be consistent. We also integrated chemical analyses of body feather with geolocation tracking data to demonstrate that analyses of δ13C and δ15N values successfully assigned 88 % of birds to one of two broad wintering regions used by breeding adult fulmars from a Scottish study colony. These data provide strong support for the use of body feathers as a tool for exploring non-breeding foraging patterns and diet in wide-ranging, pelagic seabirds.
Original languageEnglish
Article number64
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalMarine Biology
Volume163
Early online date29 Feb 2016
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2016

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feathers
seabird
foraging
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breeding
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diet
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activity pattern
molt
marker
birds
migratory behavior
temporal variation
molting
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predator
tail
ecology

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Validating the use of intrinsic markers in body feathers to identify inter-individual differences in non-breeding areas of northern fulmars. / Quinn, Lucy R.; Meharg, Andrew A.; van Franeker, Jan A.; Graham, Isla M.; Thompson, Paul M.

In: Marine Biology, Vol. 163, 64, 03.2016, p. 1-12.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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title = "Validating the use of intrinsic markers in body feathers to identify inter-individual differences in non-breeding areas of northern fulmars",
abstract = "Many wildlife studies use chemical analyses to explore spatio-temporal variation in diet, migratory patterns and contaminant exposure. Intrinsic markers are particularly valuable for studying non-breeding marine predators, when direct methods of investigation are rarely feasible. However, any inferences regarding foraging ecology are dependent upon the time scale over which tissues such as feathers are formed. In this study, we validate the use of body feathers for studying non-breeding foraging patterns in a pelagic seabird, the northern fulmar. Analysis of carcasses of successfully breeding adult fulmars indicated that body feathers moulted between September and March, whereas analyses of carcasses and activity patterns suggested that wing feather and tail feather moult occurred during more restricted periods (September to October and September to January, respectively). By randomly sampling relevant body feathers, average values for individual birds were shown to be consistent. We also integrated chemical analyses of body feather with geolocation tracking data to demonstrate that analyses of δ13C and δ15N values successfully assigned 88 {\%} of birds to one of two broad wintering regions used by breeding adult fulmars from a Scottish study colony. These data provide strong support for the use of body feathers as a tool for exploring non-breeding foraging patterns and diet in wide-ranging, pelagic seabirds.",
author = "Quinn, {Lucy R.} and Meharg, {Andrew A.} and {van Franeker}, {Jan A.} and Graham, {Isla M.} and Thompson, {Paul M.}",
note = "Acknowledgments We thank Claire Deacon, Gareth Norton and Andrea Raab for help with laboratory work at the University of Aberdeen, and Barry Thornton and Gillian Martin for running stable isotope analysis at the James Hutton Institute. Thanks to all involved in the collection and processing of dead fulmars through the North Sea plastic pollution project at IMARES, with special thanks to Jens-Kjeld Jensen, Bergur Olsen and Elisa Bravo Rebolledo for samples from the Faroe Islands and Susanne K{\"u}hn for those from Iceland. Thanks to Orkney Islands Council for access to Eynhallow and to all the fieldworkers involved in deployment and recovery of the GLS tags. All ringing work was carried out under permit from the BTO, and feather sampling was carried out under licence from the Home Office. We are grateful to James Fox of Migrate Technologies for recovering data from GLS loggers which would not download, and Richard Phillips and Janet Silk of BAS for advice on GLS analysis. We thank Deborah Dawson of the NERC Biomolecular Analysis Facility, University of Sheffield and Stuart Piertney of University of Aberdeen for molecular sexing of the fulmars. Lucy Quinn was supported by a NERC Studentship and additional funding to support fieldwork was gratefully received from Talisman Energy (UK) Ltd. We thank Yves Cherel and two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on the manuscript.",
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N1 - Acknowledgments We thank Claire Deacon, Gareth Norton and Andrea Raab for help with laboratory work at the University of Aberdeen, and Barry Thornton and Gillian Martin for running stable isotope analysis at the James Hutton Institute. Thanks to all involved in the collection and processing of dead fulmars through the North Sea plastic pollution project at IMARES, with special thanks to Jens-Kjeld Jensen, Bergur Olsen and Elisa Bravo Rebolledo for samples from the Faroe Islands and Susanne Kühn for those from Iceland. Thanks to Orkney Islands Council for access to Eynhallow and to all the fieldworkers involved in deployment and recovery of the GLS tags. All ringing work was carried out under permit from the BTO, and feather sampling was carried out under licence from the Home Office. We are grateful to James Fox of Migrate Technologies for recovering data from GLS loggers which would not download, and Richard Phillips and Janet Silk of BAS for advice on GLS analysis. We thank Deborah Dawson of the NERC Biomolecular Analysis Facility, University of Sheffield and Stuart Piertney of University of Aberdeen for molecular sexing of the fulmars. Lucy Quinn was supported by a NERC Studentship and additional funding to support fieldwork was gratefully received from Talisman Energy (UK) Ltd. We thank Yves Cherel and two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on the manuscript.

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N2 - Many wildlife studies use chemical analyses to explore spatio-temporal variation in diet, migratory patterns and contaminant exposure. Intrinsic markers are particularly valuable for studying non-breeding marine predators, when direct methods of investigation are rarely feasible. However, any inferences regarding foraging ecology are dependent upon the time scale over which tissues such as feathers are formed. In this study, we validate the use of body feathers for studying non-breeding foraging patterns in a pelagic seabird, the northern fulmar. Analysis of carcasses of successfully breeding adult fulmars indicated that body feathers moulted between September and March, whereas analyses of carcasses and activity patterns suggested that wing feather and tail feather moult occurred during more restricted periods (September to October and September to January, respectively). By randomly sampling relevant body feathers, average values for individual birds were shown to be consistent. We also integrated chemical analyses of body feather with geolocation tracking data to demonstrate that analyses of δ13C and δ15N values successfully assigned 88 % of birds to one of two broad wintering regions used by breeding adult fulmars from a Scottish study colony. These data provide strong support for the use of body feathers as a tool for exploring non-breeding foraging patterns and diet in wide-ranging, pelagic seabirds.

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