US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Environ. Sci. Technol. 2016, 50, 12928−12937

DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b04407


U.S. government works are not subject to copyright.


Through laboratory and field studies, the utility of amino acid compound-specific nitrogen isotope analysis (AA-CSIA) in avian studies is investigated. Captive American kestrels (Falco sparverius) were fed an isotopically characterized diet and patterns in δ15N values of amino acids (AAs) were compared to those in their tissues (muscle and red blood cells) and food. Based upon nitrogen isotope discrimination between diet and kestrel tissues, AAs could mostly be categorized as source AAs (retaining baseline δ15N values) and trophic AAs (showing 15N enrichment). Trophic discrimination factors based upon the source (phenylalanine, Phe) and trophic (glutamic acid, Glu) AAs were 4.1 (muscle) and 5.4 (red blood cells), lower than those reported for metazoan invertebrates. In a field study involving omnivorous herring gulls (Larus argentatus smithsonianus), egg AA isotopic patterns largely retained those observed in the laying female’s tissues (muscle, red blood cells, and liver). Realistic estimates of gull trophic position were obtained using bird Glu and Phe δ15N values combined with β values (difference in Glu and Phe δ15N in primary producers) for aquatic and terrestrial food webs. Egg fatty acids were used to weight β values for proportions of aquatic and terrestrial food in gull diets. This novel approach can be applied to generalist species that feed across ecosystem boundaries.