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Frontiers of Ecology and Evolution




1120271 (1-10)


Tracing how free-ranging organisms interact with their environment to maintain water balance is a difficult topic to study for logistical and methodological reasons. We use a novel combination of triple-oxygen stable isotope analyses of water extracted from plasma (δ16O, δ17O, δ18O) and bulk tissue carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) isotopes of feathers and blood to estimate the proportional contribution of marine resources, seawater, and metabolic water used by two species of unique songbirds (genus Cinclodes) to maintain their water balance in a seasonal coastal environment. We also assessed the physiological adjustments that these birds use to maintain their water balance. In agreement with previous work on these species, δ13C and δ15N data show that the coastal resident and invertivore C. nigrofumosus consumes a diet rich in marine resources, while the diet of migratory C. oustaleti shifts seasonally between marine (winter) to freshwater aquatic resources (summer). Triple-oxygen isotope analysis (Δ17O) of blood plasma, basal metabolic rate (BMR), and total evaporative water loss (TEWL) revealed that ~25% of the body water pool of both species originated from metabolic water, while the rest originated from a mix of seawater and fresh water. Δ17O measurements suggest that the contribution of metabolic water tends to increase in summer in C. nigrofumosus, which is coupled with a significant increase in BMR and TEWL. The two species had similar BMR and TEWL during the austral winter when they occur sympatrically in coastal environments. We also found a positive and significant association between the use of marine resources as measured by δ13C and δ15N values and the estimated δ18O values of ingested (pre-formed) water in both species, which indicates that Cinclodes do not directly drink seawater but rather passively ingest when consuming marine invertebrates. Finally, results obtained from physiological parameters and the isotope-based estimates of marine (food and water) resource use are consistent, supporting the use of the triple-oxygen isotopes to quantify the contribution of water sources to the total water balance of free-ranging birds.


© 2023 Navarrete, Lübcker, Alvarez, Nespolo, Sanchez-Hernandez, Maldonado, Sharp, Whiteman, Newsome and Sabat.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

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Article states: The raw data supporting the conclusions of this article will be made available by the authors, without undue reservation

Original Publication Citation

Navarrete, L., Lübcker, N., Alvarez, F., Nespolo, R., Sanchez-Hernandez, J. C., Maldonado, K., Sharp, Z. D., Whiteman, J. P., Newsome, S. D., & Sabat, P. (2023). A multi-isotope approach reveals seasonal variation in the reliance on marine resources, production of metabolic water, and ingestion of seawater by two species of coastal passerine to maintain water balance. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 11, 1-10, Article 1120271.


0000-0002-3348-9274 (Whiteman)


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