Longline fisheries, oil spills, and offshore wind farms are some of the major threats increasing seabird mortality at sea, but the impact of these threats on specific populations has been difficult to determine so far. We tested the use of molecular markers, morphometric measures, and stable isotope (delta N-15 and delta C-13) and trace element concentrations in the first primary feather (grown at the end of the breeding period) to assign the geographic origin of Calonectris shearwaters. Overall, we sampled birds from three taxa: 13 Mediterranean Cory's Shearwater (Calonectris diomedea diomedea) breeding sites, 10 Atlantic Cory's Shearwater (Calonectris diomedea borealis) breeding sites, and one Cape Verde Shearwater (C. edwardsii) breeding site. Assignment rates were investigated at three spatial scales: breeding colony, breeding archipelago, and taxa levels. Genetic analyses based on the mitochondrial control region (198 birds from 21 breeding colonies) correctly assigned 100% of birds to the three main taxa but failed in detecting geographic structuring at lower scales. Discriminant analyses based on trace elements composition achieved the best rate of correct assignment to colony (77.5%). Body measurements or stable isotopes mainly succeeded in assigning individuals among taxa (87.9% and 89.9%, respectively) but failed at the colony level (27.1% and 38.0%, respectively). Combining all three approaches (morphometrics, isotopes, and trace elements on 186 birds from 15 breeding colonies) substantially improved correct classifications (86.0%, 90.7%, and 100% among colonies, archipelagos, and taxa, respectively). Validations using two independent data sets and jackknife cross-validation confirmed the robustness of the combined approach in the colony assignment (62.5%, 58.8%, and 69.8% for each validation test, respectively). A preliminary application of the discriminant model based on stable isotope delta N-15 and delta C-13 values and trace elements (219 birds from 17 breeding sites) showed that 41 Cory's Shearwaters caught by western Mediterranean long-liners came mainly from breeding colonies in Menorca (48.8%), Ibiza (14.6%), and Crete (31.7%). Our findings show that combining analyses of trace elements and stable isotopes on feathers can achieve high rates of correct geographic assignment of birds in the marine environment, opening new prospects for the study of seabird mortality at sea.
Geographic Assignment of Seabirds to their Origin: Combining Morphologic, Genetic, and Biogeochemical Analyses
Gomez-Diaz, E.; Gonzalez-Solis, J. (2007). Geographic Assignment of Seabirds to their Origin: Combining Morphologic, Genetic, and Biogeochemical Analyses. Ecological Applications, 17, 1484-1498.