Equations for Lipid Normalization of Carbon Stable Isotope Ratios in Aquatic Bird Eggs

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Elliott KH, Davis M, Elliott JE (2014) Equations for Lipid Normalization of Carbon Stable Isotope Ratios in Aquatic Bird Eggs. PLoS ONE 9(1): e83597. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0083597

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Stable isotope ratios are biogeochemical tracers that can be used to determine the source of nutrients and contaminants in avian eggs. However, the interpretation of stable carbon ratios in lipid-rich eggs is complicated because 13C is depleted in lipids. Variation in 13C abundance can therefore be obscured by variation in percent lipids. Past attempts to establish an algebraic equation to correct carbon isotope ratios for lipid content in eggs have been unsuccessful, possibly because they relied partly on data from coastal or migratory species that may obtain egg lipids from different habitats than egg protein. We measured carbon, nitrogen and sulphur stable isotope ratios in 175 eggs from eight species of aquatic birds. Carbon, nitrogen and sulphur isotopes were enriched in lipid-extracted egg samples compared with non extracted egg samples. A logarithmic equation using the C:N ratio and carbon isotope ratio from the non extracted egg tissue calculated 90% of the lipid-extracted carbon isotope ratios within ±0.5‰. Calculating separate equations for eggs laid by species in different habitats (pelagic, offshore and terrestrial-influenced) improved the fit. A logarithmic equation, rather than a linear equation as often used for muscle, was necessary to accurately correct for lipid content because the relatively high lipid content of eggs compared with muscle meant that a linear relationship did not accurately approximate the relationship between percent lipids and the C:N ratio. Because lipid extraction alters sulphur and nitrogen isotope ratios (and cannot be corrected algebraically), we suggest that isotopic measurement on bulk tissue followed by algebraic lipid normalization of carbon stable isotope ratio is often a good solution for homogenated eggs, at least when it is not possible to complete separate chemical analyses for each isotope.

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NSERC Vanier scholarship
ACUNS Garfield Weston Foundation Northern Studies Award
Jennifer Robinson Memorial Award
Environment Canada's Chemical Management Plan