Relationships between stable isotopes and metal contaminants in feathers are spurious and biologically uninformative

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Abstract

Stable isotopes of carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) are used frequently in ecotoxicological investigations of birds to relate contaminant levels to trophic position (δ15N) or foraging location (δ13C) and many researchers using avian feathers in such investigations use δ13C or δ15N as a predictor of contaminant concentrations. Contaminants, especially mercury, however, are integrated into feathers over different time periods than are stable isotopes, resulting in spurious relationships that have no biological meaning. I show the fundamental principles behind the conclusion that relating δ13C or δ15N to contaminant concentrations in feathers is not appropriate in light of the number of recent studies that have employed this approach, and make recommendations for those wishing to investigate the relationship between contaminants and stable isotope ratios.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1182-1184
Number of pages3
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Volume158
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2010

Keywords

  • Ecotoxicology
  • Feathers
  • Mercury
  • Stable isotopes
  • Trace elements

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