Bird migration and avian influenza: A comparison of hydrogen stable isotopes and satellite tracking methods

Eli S. Bridge, Jeffrey F. Kelly, Xiangming Xiao, John Y. Takekawa, Nichola J. Hill, Mat Yamage, Enam Ul Haque, Mohammad Anwarul Islam, Taej Mundkur, Kiraz Erciyas Yavuz, Paul Leader, Connie Y.H. Leung, Bena Smith, Kyle A. Spragens, Kurt J. Vandegrift, Parviez R. Hosseini, Samia Saif, Samiul Mohsanin, Andrea Mikolon, Ausrafal IslamActy George, Balachandran Sivananinthaperumal, Peter Daszak, Scott H. Newman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Satellite-based tracking of migratory waterfowl is an important tool for understanding the potential role of wild birds in the long-distance transmission of highly pathogenic avian influenza. However, employing this technique on a continental scale is prohibitively expensive. This study explores the utility of stable isotope ratios in feathers in examining both the distances traveled by migratory birds and variation in migration behavior. We compared the satellite-derived movement data of 22 ducks from 8 species captured at wintering areas in Bangladesh, Turkey, and Hong Kong with deuterium ratios (δD) in the feathers of these and other individuals captured at the same locations. We derived likely molting locations from the satellite tracking data and generated expected isotope ratios based on an interpolated map of δD in rainwater. Although δD was correlated with the distance between wintering and molting locations, surprisingly, measured δD values were not correlated with either expected values or latitudes of molting sites. However, population-level parameters derived from the satellite-tracking data, such as mean distance between wintering and molting locations and variation in migration distance, were reflected by means and variation of the stable isotope values. Our findings call into question the relevance of the rainfall isotope map for Asia for linking feather isotopes to molting locations, and underscore the need for extensive ground truthing in the form of feather-based isoscapes. Nevertheless, stable isotopes from feathers could inform disease models by characterizing the degree to which regional breeding populations interact at common wintering locations. Feather isotopes also could aid in surveying wintering locations to determine where high-resolution tracking techniques (e.g. satellite tracking) could most effectively be employed. Moreover, intrinsic markers such as stable isotopes offer the only means of inferring movement information from birds that have died as a result of infection. In the absence of feather based-isoscapes, we recommend a combination of isotope analysis and satellite-tracking as the best means of generating aggregate movement data for informing disease models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)266-273
Number of pages8
JournalEcological Indicators
StatePublished - Oct 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Decision Sciences
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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