Stable isotope ratios in the tissues of organisms have become important indirect indicators of many factors that cannot easily be observed directly. Stable isotope ratios of hydrogen (delta deuterium) often are used as indicators of migration or location of origin of animals. However, recent data suggest that delta deuterium may be a less pure indicator of migration or location than has been thought. Thus, it is important to resolve what other factors may systematically affect the delta deuterium of animal tissues. This project will use an extensive data set that has been collected as part of an on-going study of Hawaiian petrels to identify factors that contribute significantly to variation in stable isotope ratios of hydrogen in the tissues of the petrels.
This research has the potential to overturn a commonly applied paradigm in organismal biology (that delta deuterium can be used directly to infer migration histories) and result in new or refined understanding and applications of delta deuterium techniques. The project includes interdisciplinary training and mentoring of undergraduates and a graduate student, as well as public outreach.