Journal of Ornithology

, Volume 157, Issue 3, pp 663–669 | Cite as

Combining stable hydrogen (δ2H) isotopes and geolocation to assign Scaly-sided Mergansers to moult river catchments

  • Diana Solovyeva
  • Keith A. Hobson
  • Natalia Kharitonova
  • Jason Newton
  • James W. Fox
  • Vsevolod Afansyev
  • Anthony D. FoxEmail author
Original Article


Scaly-sided Mergansers Mergus squamatus breed on freshwater rivers in Far East Russia, Korea, and China, wintering on similar habitat in China and Korea, but information on their post-breeding moulting habitats remains elusive. We combined analysis of stable hydrogen isotope ratios (δ2H) in flight feathers from nesting females equipped with geolocators to test whether we could correctly identify their use of moulting rivers (which show a strong north–south gradient in river water δ2H characteristics) based on feather δ2H values. The results are the first ever to demonstrate a strong positive correlation (r 2 = 0.91) between measured river catchment water δ2H and feather δ2H from birds of known moulting location (from geolocation) in an avian piscivorous species. Furthermore, our δ2H results overwhelmingly supported previous determinations based on feather δ13C and δ15N measurements from the same individuals confirming that most Scaly-sided Mergansers of both sexes moulted on freshwater, although four non-breeding and failed breeding females (out of 21) and one male (out of six) apparently undertook moult migration to brackish and marine waters. The single case where the δ2H results contradicted previous isotopic evidence was likely due to birds eating migratory fish of marine provenance that migrate up freshwater rivers. These results confirm the potential power of feather δ2H to assign piscivorous birds to specific river catchment moult sites and the utility of using multiple stable isotopes to assign birds to moult habitat and location in potentially complex estuarine and brackish situations or where migratory prey may be used by birds in freshwater habitats.


Habitat use Primorye Remigial moult Deuterium Carbon-13 Nitrogen-15 


Kombination von stabilen Wasserstoff-Isotopen (δ2H) und Geolokation zur Bestimmung der Mauserhabitate des Schuppensägers Mergus squamatus in Flusseinzugsgebieten

Schuppensäger (Mergus squamatus) brüten auf Süßwasserflüssen im fernen Osten Russlands, in Korea und China, und sie überwintern in ähnlichen Habitaten in China und Korea, aber Informationen über das Mauser-Habitat nach der Brut sind nur schwer zu erlangen. Wir kombinierten die Analyse von Isotopenverhältnissen stabiler Wasserstoff-Isotopen (δ2H) in Flugfedern nistender Weibchen mit Daten aus von den Weibchen getragenen Geolokatoren, um festzustellen, ob wir ihre Nutzung von Mauser-Flüssen anhand der δ2H-Werte aus den Federn korrekt identifizieren können (die Flüsse zeigen einen starken Nord-Süd-Gradienten in der δ2H-Charakteristik des Wassers). Die Ergebnisse zeigen erstmalig für eine piscivore Vogelart eine stark positive Korrelation zwischen dem δ2H des gemessenen Flusswassers und dem δ2H von Vögeln mit aufgrund der Geolokation bekanntem Mauser-Gebiet. Darüber hinaus bestätigen unsere δ2H-Ergebnisse hervorragend frühere Analysen auf Grundlage von δ13C- und δ15 N-Messungen aus Federn derselben Individuen, die bestätigen, dass die meisten Schuppensäger beiderlei Geschlechts auf Süßwasser mauserten, wobei allerdings vier nicht oder erfolglos brütende Weibchen (von 21) und ein Männchen (von 6) offenbar einen Mauserzug zu Brack- oder Seewasser unternommen haben. Der einzige Fall, in dem die δ2H-Ergebnisse früheren Isotopenbestimmungen widersprachen, hatte wahrscheinlich damit zu tun, dass die Vögel wandernde Seefische fraßen, die Süßwasserflüsse hinaufwandern. Diese Ergebnisse unterstreichen den möglichen Nutzen von δ2H-Messungen aus Federn, um piscivore Vögel einem bestimmten Flusseinzugsgebiet als Mauser-Habitat zuzuordnen, und sie bestätigen die Nützlichkeit des Gebrauchs mehrerer stabiler Isotope, um Vögel einem Mauserhabitat und einem Ort in möglicherweise komplexen estuarinen und brackigen Gegebenheiten zuzuordnen oder wenn wandernde Beute von Vögeln in Süßwasser-Habitaten gefressen wird.



We acknowledge financial support from the Rufford Small Grants (2003, 2004, 2006, and 2012), Wildfowl & Wetland Trust (2001–2013), Forestry Bureau, COA, Taiwan Government (2006–2013), and Doreen Fox (2007). Thanks to Sergey Vartanyan, Valery Shokhrin, George Chelnokov, and Ivan Bragin for invaluable help with fieldwork and Len Wassenaar for assistance with isotopic measurements at the National Water Research Institute in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. Funding was provided by an operating grant to KAH from the National Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada. Thanks to two referees and the editors for help to improving earlier manuscripts.

Supplementary material

10336_2015_1319_MOESM1_ESM.docx (2.7 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 2791 kb)


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Copyright information

© Dt. Ornithologen-Gesellschaft e.V. 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Diana Solovyeva
    • 1
  • Keith A. Hobson
    • 2
  • Natalia Kharitonova
    • 3
  • Jason Newton
    • 4
  • James W. Fox
    • 5
  • Vsevolod Afansyev
    • 6
  • Anthony D. Fox
    • 7
    Email author
  1. 1.Institute of Biological Problems of the North FEB RAS 18MagadanRussia
  2. 2.Department of BiologyUniversity of Western OntarioLondonCanada
  3. 3.Faculty of GeologyLomonosov Moscow State UniversityMoscowRussia
  4. 4.NERC Life Sciences Mass Spectrometry FacilitySUERCEast KilbrideUK
  5. 5.Migrate Technology LtdCoton, CambridgeUK
  6. 6.British Antarctic SurveyNatural Environment Research CouncilCambridgeUK
  7. 7.Department of BiosciencesAarhus UniversityRøndeDenmark

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