Stable nitrogen and carbon isotopes may not be good indicators of altitudinal distributions of montane passerines

Yuan Mou Chang, Kent A. Hatch, Hsin Lin Wei, Hsiao Wei Yuan, Cheng Feng You, Dennis Eggett, Yi Hsuan Tu, Ya Ling Lin, Hau Jie Shiu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


We examined δ15N and δ13C values of feathers from nine species, belonging to three feeding guilds (herbivores, omnivores, and insectivores), of wild passerines at eight sites along an altitudinal gradient (339-2,876 m asl) within Taroko National Park, Taiwan. We examined: (1) if altitudinal patterns in feather δ15N and δ13C are consistent with previously published values for plants and soils, (2) if feather δ15N and δ13C differ among sites, and (3) if there are year-to-year and/or month-to-month fluctuations in feather δ15N and δ13C of the same birds. We found no simple relationship between feather isotope values and altitude. Feather δ15N values decreased significantly with increasing altitude for insectivores, but not for herbivores and omnivores. Feather δ13C values increased significantly with increasing altitude for herbivores and omnivores, but not for insectivores. Altitudinal trends in feather δ15N and δ13C values exhibit even more inconsistent patterns when data were analyzed by species; feather δ15N and δ13C values for some species increased significantly with increasing altitude, others decreased significantly with increasing altitude, and still others exhibited no significant relationship between isotopic values and altitude. The R2 for the relationship between feather δ15N, δ13C values and altitude was generally low regardless of whether the analysis was by feeding guilds or species. This indicates much of the variation cannot be explained by altitude. There were either no significant differences between sites, or significant differences between some but not all sites when investigating δ15N or δ13C, whether by feeding guilds or by species. Our study suggests that carbon and nitrogen isotopes may be not useful markers to track altitudinal migration of montane passerines.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-47
Number of pages15
JournalWilson Journal of Ornithology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2011 Mar 1

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Animal Science and Zoology

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