Trace-element analysis has been suggested as a tool for the study of migratory connectivity because (1) trace-element abundance varies spatially in the environment, (2) trace elements are assimilated into animals' tissues through the diet, and (3) current technology permits the analysis of multiple trace elements in a small tissue sample, allowing the simultaneous exploration of several elements. We explored the potential of trace elements (B, Na, Mg, Al, Si, P, S, K, Ca, Ti, Cr, Mn, Ni, Cu, Zn, As, Sr, Cs, Hg, Tl, Pb, Bi, Th, and U) to clarify the migratory connectivity of shorebirds that breed in North America and winter in southern South America. We collected 66 recently replaced secondary feathers from Red Knots (Calidris canutus) at three sites in Patagonia and 76 from White-rumped Sandpipers (C. fuscicollis) at nine sites across Argentina. There were significant differences in trace-element abundance in shorebird feathers grown at different nonbreeding sites, and annual variability within a site was small compared to variability among sites. Across Argentina, there was no large-scale gradient in trace elements. The lack of such a gradient restricts the application of this technique to questions concerning the origin of shorebirds to a small number of discrete sites. Furthermore, our results including three additional species, the Pectoral Sandpiper (C. melanotos), Wilson's Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor), and Collared Plover (Charadrius collaris), suggest that trace-element profiles change as feathers age. Temporal instability of trace-element values could undermine their application to the study of migratory connectivity in shorebirds. ?? The Cooper Ornithological Society 2010.
Additional publication details
Trace elements have limited utility for studying migratory connectivity in shorebirds that winter in Argentina