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Animal Migration

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Within-wing isotopic (δ2H, δ13C, δ15N) variation of monarch butterflies: implications for studies of migratory origins and diet

Keith A. Hobson / Tessa Plint
  • The Laboratory for Stable Isotope Science-Advanced Facility for Avian Research, The University of Western Ontario, London ON CanadaN6A 5B7
  • Other articles by this author:
  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
/ Eligio García Serrano
  • Monarch Fund Coordinator, Heroes Ferrocarrileros No. 1, Col. Heroes Ferrocarrileros, CP. 61506, Zitacuaro, Michoacan, Mexic
  • Other articles by this author:
  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
/ Xiomara Mora Alvarez / Isabel Ramirez / Fred J. Longstaffe
Published Online: 2017-06-10 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ami-2017-0002


Increasingly, stable isotope measurements are being used to assign individuals to broad geographic origins based on established relationships between animal tissues and tissue-specific isoscapes. In particular, the eastern North American population of the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) has been the subject of several studies using established δ2H and δ13C wingtissue isoscapes to infer natal origins of migrating and overwintering individuals. However, there has been no study investigating potential variance that can derive from subsampling different regions of the wings, especially those regions differing in pigmentation (orange versus black). Within-wing isotopic (δ2H, δ13C, δ15N) variance of 40 monarch butterflies collected from natural overwinter mortality on Mexican roost sites were split evenly into two groups: unwashed samples and those washed in a 2:1 chloroform:methanol solvent. Isotopic variance in δ2H and δ13C was related to pigment (within-wing range 5‰ and 0.5‰, respectively), but not region of subsampling. This variance was reduced 3 to 4 fold through solvent washing that removed pigmented surface scales and any adhered oils. Wing δ15N was similarly influenced by pigment (range 0.3‰), but this effect was not reduced through washing. We recommend future isotopic studies of monarchs and other butterflies for migration research to use the same region for subsampling consistently and to wash samples with solvent to reduce isotopic variance related to uncontrolled variance in discrimination (δ2H, δ13C, δ15N) and/or adsorbed water vapor (δ2H). These data also need to be included in description of methods.

Keywords : carbon-13; deuterium; isoscapes; migration; monarch butterfly; nitrogen-15; stable isotopes


  • Altizer, S.M., Hobson K.A., Davis A.K., de Roode J.C., Wassenaar L.I.Do healthy monarchs migrate farther? Tracking natal origins ofparasitized vs. uninfected monarch butterflies overwinteringin Mexico. PLoS ONE 2015, 10, e0141371. oi:10.1371/journal.pone.0141371. Davis A. Intraspecific variation in wing colour is related to larvalenergy reserves in monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus).Physiol. Entomol. 2014, 39, 247. Flockhart, T., Wassenaar L.I., Martin T., Hobson K.A., Wunder M.,Norris D.R. Tracking multi-generational colonization of thebreeding grounds by monarch butterflies in eastern NorthAmerica. Proc. Roy. Soc. Lond. B, 2013, 280, 1087. Flockhart D.T., Brower L.P., Ramirez M.I., Hobson K.A., WassenaarL.I., Altizer S., Norris D.R. Regional climate on the breedinggrounds predicts variation in the natal origin of monarchbutterflies overwintering in Mexico over 38 years. GlobalChange Biol. 2017, doi:CrossrefGoogle Scholar

About the article

Received: 2017-03-18

Accepted: 2017-05-22

Published Online: 2017-06-10

Published in Print: 2017-02-23

Citation Information: Animal Migration, Volume 4, Issue 1, Pages 8–14, ISSN (Online) 2084-8838, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ami-2017-0002.

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© 2017. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 License. BY-NC-ND 4.0

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