Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Show Summary Details
In This Section

Animal Migration

Ed. by Davis, Andrew

1 Issue per year

Emerging Science

Open Access
See all formats and pricing
In This Section

A multi-isotope (δ13C, δ15N, δ2H) approach to connecting European breeding and African wintering populations of barn swallow (Hirundo rustica)

Keith A. Hobson
  • Environment Canada, 11 Innovation Blvd., Saskatoon, SK, Canada S7N 3H5
  • Email:
/ Anders P. Møller
  • Laboratoire d’Ecologie, Systématique et Evolution, CNRS UMR 8079, Université Paris-Sud, Bâtiment 362, F-91405 Orsay Cedex, France
/ Steven L. Van Wilgenburg
  • Environment Canada, 11 Innovation Blvd., Saskatoon, SK, Canada S7N 3H5
Published Online: 2012-11-02 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.2478/ami-2012-0002

A multi-isotope (δ13C, δ15N, δ2H) approach to connecting European breeding and African wintering populations of barn swallow (Hirundo rustica)

Establishing links between breeding and wintering populations of longdistance migratory birds and other animals is fundamental to several aspects of migration research. However, severe limitations in our ability to track small-bodied migratory species still limits this field despite several recent technological breakthroughs. The measurement of naturally occurring stable isotopes of several elements in the tissues of migrants that travel across isotopic gradients or isoscapes has the potential to identify large scale migratory connectivity without some of the biases associated with the use of extrinsic markers. We investigated migratory connectivity between European breeding and African wintering populations of barn swallow (Hirundo rustica) by comparing feather isotope (δ13C, δ15N, δ2H) values with those expected from previously established feather isotopic clusters for Africa. We used a likelihood approach to assigning individuals to molt origins that also made use of prior information provided by ring recoveries as part of the EURING and SAFRING ringing efforts. We found evidence for strong isotopic spatial structure in the dataset, supporting the notion of a migratory divide in Europe with birds breeding in the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany and Eastern Europe wintering in southern Africa and virtually all samples from Switzerland westward being assigned to clusters in the northern portion of the species’ winter range. Individuals from the United Kingdom were assigned to areas including Namibia, Botswana, northern South Africa, and along the coast of Mozambique and Tanzania. Birds wintering in the northernmost region of the wintering grounds tended to breed in the southernmost region of the breeding grounds, providing some evidence of leap-frog migration. We detected a strong latitudinal threshold in feather δ13C in Europe for African-grown feathers, suggesting that birds breeding in southern Europe (< 50° Latitude) primarily used C3-dominated habitats in Africa, whereas birds in northern Europe (> 53° Latitude) primarily used C4-dominated habitats. Our results emphasize the power in using a multi-isotope approach to assign individuals and populations to known continental-scale isoscapes and the advantages of combining isotopic and conventional (ring recovery) information within a Bayesian assignment framework.

Keywords: Barn swallow; Isoscapes; Migratory connectivity; Stable-isotope

  • Salomonsen F., The evolutionary significance of birdmigration. Biol Medd Kgl Dan Vidensk Selsk 1955, 22, 1-62

  • Webster M.S. and Marra P. The importanceof understanding migratory connectivity and seasonal interactions. Pages 199-209 in Birds of Two Worlds, The Ecology and Evolution of Migration (eds. Greenberg R, Marra P). Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, USA 2005

  • Webster M.S., Marra P.P., Haig S.M., Bensch S., Holmes R.T., Links between worlds: unraveling migratory connectivity. Trends Ecol. Evol., 2002, 17, 76-83

  • Marra P.P., Hobson K.A., Holmes R.T., Linking winter and summer events in a migratory bird by using stable-carbon isotopes. Science, 1998, 282, 1884-1886

  • Norris D.R., Marra P.P., Kyser T.K., Montgomerie R., Ratcliffe L.M., Reproductive effort, molting latitude and feather color in a migratory songbird. Science 2004, 306, 2249-2250

  • Sillett T.S., Holmes R.T., Sherry T.W., Impacts of a global climate cycle on population dynamics of a migratory songbird. Science 2002, 288, 2040-2042

  • Saino N., Szép T., Ambrosini R,. Romano M., Møller A.P., Ecological conditions during winter affect sexual selection and breeding in a migratory bird. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 2004, 271, 681-686

  • Møller A.P., Hobson K.A., Heterogeneity in stable isotope profiles predicts coexistence of populations of barn swallows Hirundo rustica differing in morphology and reproductive performance. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B, 2004, 271, 1355-1362

  • Ambrosini R., Møller A.P., Saino N., A quantitative measure of migratory connectivity, J. Theor. Biol., 2009, 257, 203-211

  • Robinson R.A., Balmer D.E., Marchant J.M., Survival rates of hirundines in relation to British and African rainfall. Ring. Migr., 2008, 24,1-6

  • Hobson K.A., Norris D.R., Animal migration: A context for using new techniques and approaches. Pp. 1-19. In Tracking Animal Migration Using stable Isotopes (K.A. Hobson and L.I. Wassenaar, Eds). Academic Press, London, 2008

  • Bächler E., Hahn S., Schaub M., Arlettaz R., Jenni L., Fox J.W., et al., Year-Round Tracking of Small Trans-Saharan Migrants Using Light-Level Geolocators PLoS One, 2010, 5: e9566. Published online 2010 March 5. doi: 10.1371/journal. pone.0009566 [Web of Science] [Crossref]

  • Lisovski S., Hewson C.M., Klaassen R.H.G., Korner- Nievergelt F., Kirstensen M.W., Hahn S., Geolocation by light: accuracy and precision affected by environmental factors. Meth. Ecol. Evol., 2012, doi: 10.1111/j.2041- 210X.2012.00185.x [Crossref]

  • Barron D.G., Brawn J.D., Weatherhead P.J., Meta-analysis of transmitter effects on avian behavior and ecology. Meth. Ecol. Evol., 2010, 1, 180-187

  • Bowlin M.S., Henningsson P., Muijres F.T., Vleugels R.H.E., Liechti F., Hedenström A., The effect of geolocator drag and weight on the flight ranges of small migrants. Meth. Ecol. Evol. 2010, 1, 298-402

  • Saraux C., Le Bohec C., Durant J.M., Viblanc V.A., Gauthier- Clerc M., Beaune D., et al., Reliability of flipper-banded penguins as indicators of climate change. Nature 2011, 469, 203-206 [Web of Science]

  • Hobson K.A., Wassenaar L.I., Tracking Animal Migration using Stable Isotopes. Handbook of Terrestrial Ecology Series, Academic Press / Elsevier, Amsterdam, 2008

  • Hobson K.A., Barnett-Johnson R., Cerling T., Using isoscapes to track animal migration. Pages 273-298 in Isoscapes: Isotope Mapping and its Applications (J. West, G. J. Bowen, K. Tu, and T. Dawson, Eds.). Springer-Verlag, New York, 2010

  • Bowen G.J., Wassenaar L.I., Hobson K.A., Global application of stable hydrogen and oxygen isotopes to wildlife forensics, Oecologia, 2005, 143, 337-348

  • West J.B., Bowen G.J., Dawson T.E., Tu K.P., Isoscapes: Understanding Movements, Pattern and Process on Earth Through Isotope Mapping. Springer, New York, 2010 [Web of Science]

  • Hobson K.A., Van Wilgenburg S.L., Wassenaar L.I., Powell R.L., Still C.J., Craine J.M., A multi-isotope (δ13C, δ15N, δ2H) feather isoscape to assign Afrotropical migrant birds to origins, Ecosphere 2012a, 3:art44. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/ES12-00018.1 [Web of Science] [Crossref]

  • Spina F., The EURING swallow project: a large-scale approach to the study and conservation of a long-distance migrant. In Migrating birds know no boundaries (eds. Leshem J., Lachman E. Berthold P) The Torgos., 1998, 28, 151-162

  • Evans, K. L., S. Waldron, and R. B. Bradbury. Segregation in the African wintering ranges of English and Swiss Swallow Hirundo rustica populations: a stable isotope study. Bird Stud. 2003, 50, 294-299

  • Ambrosini R., Rubolini D., Møller A.P., Bani L., Clark J., Karcza Z., et al., Climate change and the long-term northward shift in the African wintering range of barn swallows Hirundo rustica. Climate Res., 2011, 49, 131-141 [Web of Science]

  • Szép T., Hobson K.A., Vallner J., Kovacs B., Szabo D.Z., Møller A.P., Comparison of trace element and stable isotope approaches to the study of migratory connectivity: An example using two hirundine species breeding in Europe and wintering in Africa. J. Orn. 2009, 150, 621-636

  • Turner A.K., The barn swallow. T. & A. D. Poyser, London, UK, 2006

  • Ginn H.B., Melville D.S., Moult in birds. BTO, Thetford, UK. 2000

  • Wassenaar L.I., Hobson K.A., Comparative equilibration and online technique for determination of non-exchangeable hydrogen of keratins for animal migration studies, Isot. Environ. Healt. S., 2003, 39, 1-7

  • Still, C. J., and R. L. Powell. 2010. Continental-scale distributions of vegetation stable carbon isotope ratios. Pages 179 – 194 in J. B. West, G. J. Bowen, T. E. Dawson, and K. P. Tu, editors. Isoscapes: Understanding Movements, Pattern and Process on Earth Through Isotope Mapping. Springer, New York

  • Craine, J.M, Elmore, A.J., Aidar, M.P.M., Bustamante, M., Dawson, T.E. Global patterns of foliar nitrogen isotopes and their relationships with climate, mycorrhizal fungi, foliar nutrient concentrations, and nitrogen availability. New Phytol. 2009, 183, 980-992

  • Royle J.A., Rubenstein D.R., The role of species abundance in determining breeding origins of migratory birds with stable isotopes, Ecol. Appl. 2004, 14, 1780–1788

  • Genz A., Bretz F., Miwa T., Mi X., Leisch F., Scheipl F., et al., mvtnorm: multivariate normal and t distributions, R package version 0.9-99. http://CRAN.R-project.org/ package=mvtnorm ed. 2011

  • Hobson K.A., Bairlein F., Isotopic fractionation and turnover in captive Garden Warblers (Sylvia borin): implications for delineating dietary and migratory associations in wild passerines, Can. J. Zool., 2003, 81, 1630-1635

  • Hobson K.A., Wunder M.B., Van Wilgenburg S.L., Clark R.G., Wassenaar L.I., A method for investigating population declines of migratory birds using stable isotopes: origins of harvested lesser scaup in North America, PLoS ONE 2009, 4, e7915. doi:7910.1371/journal.pone.0007915

  • Van Wilgenburg S.L., Hobson K.A., Combining stableisotope (δD) and band recovery data to improve probabilistic assignment of migratory birds to origin, Ecol.Appl., 2011, 21, 1340-1351 [Web of Science]

  • Van Wilgenburg S.L., Hobson K.A., Brewster K.R., Welker J.M., Assessing dispersal in a threatened migratory birds using stable-hydrogen isotope (δD) analysis of feathers, Endang. Species Res., 2012, 16, 17-29

  • Møller A. P. Phenotype-dependent arrival time and its consequences in a migratory bird. Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol., 1994, 35, 115-122

  • Newton I., The migration ecology of birds. Academic Press, London, UK, 2008

  • Glutz von Blotzheim UN. Handbuch der Vögel Mitteleuropas. Vol. 10. AULA-Verlag, Wiesbaden, Germany, 1985

  • Møller A.P., Hobson K.A., Mousseau T.A., Peklo A.M., Chernobyl as a population sink for barn swallows: Tracking dispersal using stable isotope profiles. Ecol. Appl. 2006, 16, 1696-1705

  • Hobson K.A., Soto D.X., Paulson D. R., Wassenaar L.I., Matthews J., A dragonfly (δ2H) isoscape for North America: A new tool for determining natal origins of migratory aquatic emergent insects. Meth. Ecol. Evol., 2012b doi: 10.1111/j.2041-210X.2012.00202.x. [Web of Science] [Crossref]

About the article

Received: 2012-06-05

Accepted: 2012-09-12

Published Online: 2012-11-02

Published in Print: 2012-01-01

Citation Information: Animal Migration, ISSN (Online) 2084-8838, DOI: https://doi.org/10.2478/ami-2012-0002. Export Citation

This content is open access.

Citing Articles

Here you can find all Crossref-listed publications in which this article is cited. If you would like to receive automatic email messages as soon as this article is cited in other publications, simply activate the “Citation Alert” on the top of this page.

Belén García-Pérez and Keith A. Hobson
Ecosphere, 2014, Volume 5, Number 2, Page art21

Comments (0)

Please log in or register to comment.
Log in