Enriching the isotopic toolbox for migratory connectivity analysis: A new approach for migratory species breeding in remote or unexplored areas

Sasha Pekarsky*, Alon Angert, Barbara Haese, Martin Werner, Keith A. Hobson, Ran Nathan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Aim: We examined three potential enhancements of the stable isotope technique for elucidating migratory connectivity in birds inhabiting poorly studied areas, illustrated for Eurasian cranes (Grus grus) that overwinter in and migrate through Israel. First, we examined the use of oxygen stable isotopes (δ18O), seldom applied for this purpose. Second, we examined the relationship between ambient water δ18O and hydrogen stable isotope (δ2H) values derived from various models, to determine the geographical origins of migrants. Third, we introduced the use of probabilistic distribution modelling to refine the assignment to origin of migrants lacking detailed distribution maps. Location: Feather samples were collected in the Hula Valley (northern Israel) and across the species breeding range in north Eurasia. Methods: We analysed δ18O and δ2H in primary and secondary flight feathers using standard mass spectrometry. The maximum entropy (maxent) model was used to map the probability surface of potential breeding areas, as a Bayesian prior for assigning Hula Valley cranes to potential breeding grounds. Results: We found that δ18O was suitable and informative. The soil water isoscape performed better for δ18O while precipitation isoscape was preferable for δ2H. The maxent-based probability surface largely refined assignments. Overall, most (>85%) cranes were assigned to the area west of the Ural Mountains, but for two individuals, most of the assigned area (>90%) was farther east, suggesting, for the first time, that Eurasian cranes may undertake the North Asia-Middle East (and perhaps Africa) migration flyway. Main conclusions: Our results call for broader use of δ18O in migratory connectivity studies and for application of probabilistic distribution modelling. We also encourage investigation of factors determining δ18O and δ2H integration into animal tissues. The proposed framework may help improve our understanding of migratory connectivity of species inhabiting previously unexplored areas and thus contribute to the development of efficient conservation plans.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)416-427
Number of pages12
JournalDiversity and Distributions
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • Atmosphere GCM
  • Deuterium
  • ECHAM5
  • Grus grus
  • Isoscape
  • Isotopic assignment to origin
  • Maxent
  • Migratory connectivity
  • Oxygen-18
  • Stable isotopes


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