, Volume 175, Issue 4, pp 1227–1235 | Cite as

Unexpected hydrogen isotope variation in oceanic pelagic seabirds

  • Peggy H. OstromEmail author
  • Anne E. Wiley
  • Sam Rossman
  • Craig A. Stricker
  • Helen F. James
Population ecology - Original research


Hydrogen isotopes have significantly enhanced our understanding of the biogeography of migratory animals. The basis for this methodology lies in predictable, continental patterns of precipitation δD values that are often reflected in an organism’s tissues. δD variation is not expected for oceanic pelagic organisms whose dietary hydrogen (water and organic hydrogen in prey) is transferred up the food web from an isotopically homogeneous water source. We report a 142 ‰ range in the δD values of flight feathers from the Hawaiian petrel (Pterodroma sandwichensis), an oceanic pelagic North Pacific species, and inquire about the source of that variation. We show δD variation between and within four other oceanic pelagic species: Newell’s shearwater (Puffinus auricularis newellii), Black-footed albatross (Phoebastria nigripes), Laysan albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis) and Buller’s shearwater (Puffinus bulleri). The similarity between muscle δD values of hatch-year Hawaiian petrels and their prey suggests that trophic fractionation does not influence δD values of muscle. We hypothesize that isotopic discrimination is associated with water loss during salt excretion through salt glands. Salt load differs between seabirds that consume isosmotic squid and crustaceans and those that feed on hyposmotic teleost fish. In support of the salt gland hypothesis, we show an inverse relationship between δD and percent teleost fish in diet for three seabird species. Our results demonstrate the utility of δD in the study of oceanic consumers, while also contributing to a better understanding of δD systematics, the basis for one of the most commonly utilized isotope tools in avian ecology.


Hydrogen isotope Seabird Salt gland Salt load Diet analysis 



We thank Robert Faucett of the Burke Museum for supplying feather samples of Buller’s shearwater and Black-footed albatross. We also thank Cayce Gulbransen of the US Geological Survey for making hydrogen isotope measurements. Funding for this work was generously provided by the National Science Foundation (DEB-0745604 and DEB-0940338). Graduate student travel (A. Wiley) was supported, in part, by the Graduate School and Department of Zoology of Michigan State University. The use of any trade, product, or firm names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the US government.

Supplementary material

442_2014_2985_MOESM1_ESM.docx (41 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 41 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peggy H. Ostrom
    • 1
    Email author
  • Anne E. Wiley
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Sam Rossman
    • 1
  • Craig A. Stricker
    • 4
  • Helen F. James
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of ZoologyMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  2. 2.Department of Vertebrate ZoologyNational Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian InstitutionWashington, DCUSA
  3. 3.Department of BiologyThe University of AkronAkronUSA
  4. 4.US Geological Survey, Fort Collins Science CenterDenverUSA

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