Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Bird ’breathalyzer’ helps assess migratory diet

25.11.2003


While breathalyzers help police crack down on drunk driving, a similar new device is helping a University of Rhode Island graduate student analyze the dietary changes of migrating songbirds.



Just as human breathalyzers measure an individual’s blood-alcohol level, David Podlesak says that his bird breathalyzer measures the "carbon signature" of a bird’s last meal.

"We measure the ratio of the isotopes of carbon 12 to carbon 13, and this carbon signature in their breath can tell us what the bird ate earlier in the day," said the 36-year-old Wakefield resident who is nearing completion of his doctorate.


Podlesak is the first to adapt and use the bird breathalyzer on small songbirds and to verify that the measurements are accurate. The device was created recently by Kent Hatch at Brigham Young University for use with pigeons.

The birds breathe into a small mask connected to a balloon filled with pure oxygen. As the bird inhales the oxygen, it exhales carbon dioxide, replacing the oxygen in the balloon with carbon dioxide within one minute. The carbon dioxide is then analyzed for its carbon signature.

This carbon signature slowly makes its way from the bird’s breath to its blood and eventually into its feathers. Podlesak is the first to use carbon signatures in different tissues from the same bird to create a dietary timeline for migrating birds.

"The signature in the feather tells us what the bird ate on its breeding grounds a month or two ago; the signature in its red blood cells tells what it ate within the last two or three weeks; and the signature in its plasma indicates what it ate two or three days ago," Podlesak said. "If the signature is different between its feathers and its breath, that says that the bird ate something different or changed its diet and is using a different resource to fatten up on migration."

That’s an important distinction, according to Podlesak. "If birds are looking for different foods while they’re migrating -- maybe something that has more proteins or more fats -- then we need to make sure that those resources are available at popular migratory stopover sites."

Podlesak’s research is based on birds caught on Block Island, R.I., one of the major sites on the East Coast where birds stop to feed during their southward migration each fall. He captures yellow-rumped warblers, white-throated sparrows, ruby crowned kinglets, golden crowned kinglets and gray catbirds in nets, and takes breath, blood and feather samples before releasing the birds back into the wild.

His results so far have been insightful and have raised additional questions. Yellow rumped warblers, for instance, are known to primarily eat bayberry on migration. But in each of the last two years, Podlesak caught a number of warblers that ate something very different than was expected. He wonders if the birds stopped somewhere out of the ordinary or if there is an unknown migratory stopover site that provides the birds with an unusual diet.

Podlesak also discovered that some white-throated sparrows switched their diet during migration from insects and berries to corn, suggesting that the birds ate at bird feeders. This raises questions about the importance of feeders to the birds as they migrate. Podlesak hopes to answer questions about both species with additional research. Funding for his research comes from the National Science Foundation, the URI Agriculture Experiment Station, Sigma Xi, and The Nature Conservancy, which is protecting the coastal scrub habitat on Block Island where Podlesak conducts his field work.

Todd McLeish | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.uri.edu/

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Cells communicate in a dynamic code
19.02.2018 | California Institute of Technology

nachricht Studying mitosis' structure to understand the inside of cancer cells
19.02.2018 | Biophysical Society

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: In best circles: First integrated circuit from self-assembled polymer

For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.

In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...

Im Focus: Demonstration of a single molecule piezoelectric effect

Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale

Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...

Im Focus: Hybrid optics bring color imaging using ultrathin metalenses into focus

For photographers and scientists, lenses are lifesavers. They reflect and refract light, making possible the imaging systems that drive discovery through the microscope and preserve history through cameras.

But today's glass-based lenses are bulky and resist miniaturization. Next-generation technologies, such as ultrathin cameras or tiny microscopes, require...

Im Focus: Stem cell divisions in the adult brain seen for the first time

Scientists from the University of Zurich have succeeded for the first time in tracking individual stem cells and their neuronal progeny over months within the intact adult brain. This study sheds light on how new neurons are produced throughout life.

The generation of new nerve cells was once thought to taper off at the end of embryonic development. However, recent research has shown that the adult brain...

Im Focus: Interference as a new method for cooling quantum devices

Theoretical physicists propose to use negative interference to control heat flow in quantum devices. Study published in Physical Review Letters

Quantum computer parts are sensitive and need to be cooled to very low temperatures. Their tiny size makes them particularly susceptible to a temperature...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

2nd International Conference on High Temperature Shape Memory Alloys (HTSMAs)

15.02.2018 | Event News

Aachen DC Grid Summit 2018

13.02.2018 | Event News

How Global Climate Policy Can Learn from the Energy Transition

12.02.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Contacting the molecular world through graphene nanoribbons

19.02.2018 | Materials Sciences

When Proteins Shake Hands

19.02.2018 | Materials Sciences

Cells communicate in a dynamic code

19.02.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>