Trace element profiles as unique identifiers of western sandpiper (Calidris mauri) populations

D.R. Norris, D.B. Lank, J. Pither, D. Chipley, R.C. Ydenberg, T.K. Kyser

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Understanding the ecology and evolution of migratory animals requires information on how populations are geographically linked between periods of the annual cycle. To examine whether trace elements could be used to track migratory birds, we analyzed concentrations of 42 trace elements in feathers of western sandpipers (Calidris mauri (Cabanis, 1857)) that were grown at five different wintering sites ranging from San Francisco Bay (USA) to the Bay of Panama. Linear discriminant analysis of 15 elements correctly classified all 26 individuals to their wintering sites, including two sites that were separated by less than 3 km. A randomization procedure confirmed the robustness of these findings. Our analysis suggests that trace elements can be used to assign individuals to specific sites of origin. Although we did not sample feathers from all wintering areas, the regions our sites represented comprised a significant percentage of the global population. However, since trace element profiles appear to be highly specific to geographic sites, we suggest that this technique is best suited for cases where samples can be obtained from the majority of populations throughout a species range. Thus, under certain circumstances, trace element profiles may provide the potential to identify populations with a high degree of spatial accuracy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)579-583
JournalCanadian Journal of Zoology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2007


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  • stable-isotopes
  • birds
  • markers

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    Norris, D. R., Lank, D. B., Pither, J., Chipley, D., Ydenberg, R. C., & Kyser, T. K. (2007). Trace element profiles as unique identifiers of western sandpiper (Calidris mauri) populations. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 85(4), 579-583.