Background: Knowledge of immigration and emigration rates is crucial for understanding of population dynamics, yet little is known about these vital rates, especially for arctic songbirds. We estimated immigration in an Arctic population of northern wheatears on Baffin Island, Canada, by the use of stable hydrogen isotopes in tail feathers (d2HK). We assumed that d2HK values of juvenile (hatch-year) feathers grown at the breeding grounds were representative of the local population, while those of breeding adults were indicative of where they grew their feathers during their postbreeding molt the previous year. The extent to which adult isotope values differ from those of juveniles provides an estimate of the minimum level of immigration into the breeding population. Results: Mean d2HK values did not differ in juvenile birds between years. Breeding adult birds did not differ significantly in mean d2HK values compared to juveniles but did differ in their respective standard deviations, reflecting a significantly wider range of isotopic signatures in adults than in juveniles. Thirty-eight percent of the d2HK values in adults were greater ± 2 SD of the mean d2HK values of juveniles, suggesting that at least 38 % of the breeding adults were of nonlocal origin, thus immigrants from elsewhere. Conclusions: Although the use of stable isotopes has limitations, the use of stable-hydrogen isotopic markers has the potential to contribute valuable information towards understanding immigration rates in bird populations. In our study, hydrogen isotope measurements of the feathers of northern wheatears indicated a high rate of immigration into the breeding population, which is consistent with low return rates of banded breeding adults as well as implying high emigration rates of local breeders.

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Keywords Dispersal, Immigration, Northern wheatear, Oenanthe oenanthe, Stable isotopes
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Journal Movement Ecology
Bairlein, F. (Franz), Ryan Norris, D. (D.), Voigt, C.C. (Christian C.), Dunn, E.H. (Erica H.), & Hussell, D.J. (David J.T.). (2015). Using stable-hydrogen isotopes to reveal immigration in an Arctic-breeding songbird population. Movement Ecology, 4(1). doi:10.1186/s40462-016-0081-x