Stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis of avian uric acid

Michael I. Bird, Elaine Tait, Christopher M. Wurster, Robert W. Furness

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23 Citations (Scopus)


We report results obtained using a new technique developed to measure the stable-isotope composition of uric acid isolated from bird excreta (guano). Results from a diet-switch feeding trial using zebra finches suggest that the delta C-13 of uric acid in the guano equilibrates with the diet of the bird within 3 days of a change in diet, while the equilibration time for delta N-15 may be longer. The average carbon isotope discrimination between uric acid and food before the diet switch was +034 +/- 1 parts per thousand (1 sigma) while after the diet switch this increased slightly to +0.83 +/- 0.7 parts per thousand (1 sigma). Nitrogen isotope discrimination was +1.3 +/- 0.3 parts per thousand (1 sigma) and +0.3 +/- 0.3 parts per thousand (1 sigma) before and after the diet switch; however, it is possible that the nitrogen isotope values did not fully equilibrate with diet switch over the course of the experiment. Analyses of other chemical fractions of the guano (organic residue after uric acid extraction and non-uric acid organics solubilised during extraction) suggest a total range of up to 3 parts per thousand for both delta C-13 and delta N-15 values in individual components of a single bulk guano sample. The analysis of natural samples from a range of terrestrial and marine species demonstrates that the technique yields isotopic compositions consistent with the known diets of the birds. The results from natural samples further demonstrate that multiple samples from the same species collected from the same location yield similar results, while different species from the same location exhibit a range of isotopic compositions indicative of different dietary preferences. Given that many samples of guano can be rapidly collected without any requirement to capture specimens for invasive sampling, the stable-isotope analysis of uric acid offers a new, simple and potentially powerful tool for studying avian ecology and metabolism. Copyright (C) 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3393-3400
Number of pages8
JournalRapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2008


  • DELTA-N-15
  • DELTA-C-13


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