Relative contribution of lipid sources to eggs of lesser scaup

Kyle A. Cutting, Keith A. Hobson, Jay J. Rotella, Jeffrey M. Warren, John Y. Takekawa, Susan E. W. De La Cruz, Michael Parker

Published online: 
11 November 2013

Studies of how birds mobilize nutrients to eggs have traditionally considered a continuum of possible allocation strategies ranging from income breeding (rely on food sources found on the breeding grounds) to capital breeding (rely on body reserves stored prior to the breeding season). For capital breeding, stored body reserves can be acquired either on or away from the breeding grounds, but it has been difficult to quantify the relative contribution of each, precluding identification of key habitats for acquiring nutrients for clutch formation. During 2006–2009, we explored the importance of spring-staging habitats versus breeding-area habitats for egg-lipid formation in female lesser scaup Aythya affinis using stable carbon (δ13C) isotope analyses. Although δ13C values for abdominal lipid reserves brought to the breeding grounds overlapped those of local amphipods, we were able to quantify the importance of local plant carbohydrates (seeds of emergent wetland plants) to the production of eggs. We compared the importance of local wetland seeds (overall δ13C: −29.1 ± 0.9‰ SD) to combined lipid stores and lipids from local amphipods (overall δ13C: −23.8 ± 2.2‰). Local seeds and stored body lipids contributed equally to egg lipid formation across years but we found evidence of annual variation in their relative importance. Wetland seeds contributed 39% (SE = 10%) to egg lipid production, and the importance of this source varied by year (90% CI = 47–75% in 2006, 13–42% in 2007, 29–65% in 2008, and 7–30% in 2009). In contrast to earlier studies that suggest lesser scaup predominantly employ a capital breeding strategy, our results suggest that in some years females may attain half of their energy for clutch formation from foods on the breeding grounds.