Dustin R. Rubenstein &
Keith A. Hobson talk with ScienceWatch.com and
answer a few questions about this month's Fast Moving Front
in the field of Agricultural Sciences. The authors have
also sent along images of their work.
Article: From birds to butterflies: animal movement
patterns and stable isotopes
Journal: TREND ECOL EVOLUT, 19 (5): 256-263 MAY 2004
Addresses: Cornell Univ, Dept Neurobiol & Behav, Seeley
G Mudd Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853 USA.
Cornell Univ, Dept Neurobiol & Behav, Ithaca, NY 14853
Environm Canada, Prairie & No Wildlife Res Ctr,
Canadian Wildlife Serv, Saskatoon, SK S7N 0X4, Canada.
Top Dustin R. Rubenstein, bottom:
Keith A. Hobson.
Why do you think your paper is highly
Our paper reviewed the use of stable isotope measurements of animal tissues
to study animal movements. The review represented one of the first
comprehensive and accessible summaries that addressed the use of naturally
occurring stable isotope markers to track movement in a variety of animal
species, including humans.
Does it describe a new discovery, methodology, or
synthesis of knowledge?
sampling a male
This field marks a major departure from conventional mark-recapture
techniques and so is a breakthrough in the way we can infer information of
origin of individuals from a single capture. It describes a synthesis of
knowledge and outlines ways to design effective studies.
Would you summarize the significance of your paper
in layman’s terms?
The use of stable isotopes, or naturally occurring biogeochemical markers,
revolutionized studies of animal movement because it allowed researchers to
track movement patterns without having to recapture animals. Our paper
reviewed the state of the field and discussed a series of keys issues and
assumptions that needed to be addressed for designing effective and
insightful future studies of animal movements.
How did you become involved in this research and
were any particular problems encountered along the way?
Our respective research groups published some of the first comprehensive
studies in birds, using these techniques. Initially, stable isotope
laboratory techniques were hampered by time-consuming offline methods but
these have now been fully automated.
Where do you see your research leading in the
The power of this approach to linking an animal to a geographical region,
based on stable isotope analyses of its tissues, is based largely on our
ability to describe spatial patterns of stable isotopes in nature (i.e.
isoscapes). Refinement of our knowledge of isoscapes and how they may vary
temporally is the next challenge in this field.
Other research frontiers include the development of a more precise
understanding of how various tissue types (e.g., feathers, hair, blood, and
nail) can be used to infer origin. As biogeochemical markers like stable
isotopes are combined with other types of intrinsic (e.g., genetic) and
extrinsic (e.g., radio telemetry) markers, we will gain even more precise
details on animals movements.
Do you foresee any social or political implications
for your research?
These types of studies have important conservation implications for
declining populations of migratory birds and other animals with large-scale
and generally unknown movement patterns. Because many migratory animals
move across political boundaries, this technique will allow better
establishment of spatial connectivity and so link responsibilities of
different governments and management agencies involved in animal
Dustin R. Rubenstein, Ph.D.
Department of Ecology, Evolution, & Environmental Biology
New York, NY, USA Web
Keith A. Hobson, Ph.D.
Senior Research Scientist
Environment Canada Canadian Wildlife Service
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada Web ¦