Marine Biology

, 164:192 | Cite as

Testing the usefulness of hydrogen and compound-specific stable isotope analyses in seabird feathers: a case study in two sympatric Antarctic storm-petrels

  • Petra QuillfeldtEmail author
  • Simon Thorn
  • Benjamin Richter
  • Marcela Nabte
  • Nestor Coria
  • Juan F. Masello
  • Melanie Massaro
  • Verónica C. Neves
  • Marcela Libertelli
Original paper


Nitrogen and carbon stable isotopes provide tools to investigate ecological segregation, prey choice and spatial distribution in seabirds. However, the interpretation of stable isotopes is frequently hampered by a lack of isotopic baseline data. In this study, two techniques proposed to overcome such shortages were tested: compound-specific isotope analyses of amino acids (AA-CSIA) and the analysis of hydrogen stable isotope ratios (HSIA). Feathers of two sympatric storm-petrels were compared. The two species, Black-bellied storm-petrels Fregetta tropica and Wilson’s storm-petrels Oceanites oceanicus, moult in oceanic waters and differ in diet composition. For HSIA, a range of species with broad diet and non-breeding distribution was also investigated. Differences in carbon isotope values suggested differences in the spatial distribution and thus, in isotopic baseline values, during moult. Bulk nitrogen analyses of adult feathers did not detect species differences in trophic level. However, AA-CSIA detected clear differences in trophic levels in line with expectations: Black-bellied storm-petrels fed at a higher trophic level than Wilson‘s storm-petrels. Hydrogen values also differed between the species, but contrary to expectations were highly enriched in Black-bellied storm-petrels, but much less enriched in Wilson’s storm-petrels. Hydrogen data of seven petrel species challenge the suggestion that depleted δD values indicate a higher percentage of isosmotic fish. The present results suggest that the difference in hydrogen ratios may be explained by these petrels moulting in different ocean zones. Amino acid-specific stable isotope analyses were useful for estimating isotopic baselines and thus true trophic levels, whereas hydrogen isotopes were not.



We thank Vitor Paiva and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on the manuscript, and Joy Matthews and Chris Yarnes for running the analyses at UC Davis and discussing methodological details. We are grateful for logistic support by the Alfred Wegener Institute (Dirk Mengedoht), the Instituto Antarctico Argentino (Buenos Aires) and Department of Conservation (New Zealand).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

We declare that we have no conflict of interest.


This study was funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) in the framework of the priority programme SPP1154 “Antarctic Research with comparative investigations in Arctic ice areas” by a grant to PQ (Qu148/16). VN is funded by FCT, Portugal—SFRH/BPD/88914/2012.

Ethical approval

All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed.

Supplementary material

227_2017_3224_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (285 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 285 kb)
227_2017_3224_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (252 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (PDF 251 kb)
227_2017_3224_MOESM3_ESM.pdf (227 kb)
Supplementary material 3 (PDF 226 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Animal Ecology and SystematicsJustus Liebig University GiessenGiessenGermany
  2. 2.Field Station Fabrikschleichach, Department of Animal Ecology and Tropical BiologyBiocenter University of WürzburgRauhenebrachGermany
  3. 3.Facultad de Ciencias NaturalesUniversidad Nacional de la Patagonia San Juan BoscoPuerto MadrynArgentina
  4. 4.Departamento de Ciencias de la VidaInstituto Antártico ArgentinoBuenos AiresArgentina
  5. 5.School of Environmental Sciences, Institute for Land, Water and SocietyCharles Sturt UniversityAlburyAustralia
  6. 6.Department of Oceanography and Fisheries (DOP), MARE (Marine and Environmental Sciences Centre), IMAR (Institute of Marine Research) and LARSyS Associated LaboratoryUniversity of the AzoresHortaPortugal

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