Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: New Mexico
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Carleton SA, CM del Rio, and TJ Robinson. Feather Isotope Analysis Reveals Differential Patterns of Habitat and Resource Use in Populations of White-Winged Doves


The white-winged dove (Zenaida asiatica) serves an important ecological role as a diurnal pollinator of the iconic saguaro cactus in the Sonoran desert and an economic role as the second most harvested upland game bird in North America. White-winged doves are intimately linked to anthropogenic changes on the landscape and because of this, have experienced dramatic population fluctuations over the last 75 years. It is unclear whether this variation is due to factors affecting them on their breeding or wintering grounds. As a first step to link breeding and wintering locations for this species, we used stable isotopes of hydrogen (δ2H) and carbon (δ13C) in feather (δ2Hf and δ13Cf, respectively) to differentiate among populations of white-winged doves across their breeding range in the United States. δ2Hf and δ13Cf not only differentiated between populations of white-winged doves that breed in the United States, but further differentiated doves that breed in agricultural habitats from those that breed in native desert habitats within a portion of their range. Ecological processes associated with desert resources and anthropogenic influences, specifically irrigated crops, largely determined δ2Hf in some western white-winged dove populations whereas δ2H of precipitation (δ2Hp) determined δ2Hf of eastern populations. This study highlights the usefulness of stable isotope analysis to differentiate populations of animals across the landscape, the insight isotopes can provide into habitat and resource use by migratory animals, and the importance of characterizing breeding ground δ2Hf for bird species that breed in habitats influenced by anthropogenic factors or habitats that do not rely on seasonal precipitation before proceeding with movement studies linking breeding and wintering populations using stable isotopes.