The Topobiology of Chemical Elements in Seabird Feathers

Nicholas R. Howell, Jennifer L. Lavers, Sayaka Uematsu, David Paterson, Daryl L. Howard, Kathryn Spiers, Martin D. de Jonge, Tracey Hanley, Richard Garrett & Richard B. Banati


The highly organized morphogenesis of bird feathers holds important phylo- and ontogenetic information on the evolution of birds, organogenesis, tissue regeneration, and the health status of individual animals.

Altered topobiological patterns are regularly used as retrospective evidence for disturbed developmental trajectories due to the past exposure to environmental stressors. Using the most advanced high-resolution (5–70 μm) X-ray fluorescence microscopy (XFM), we describe in the feathers from three species of Procellariiformes hitherto unknown, depositions of elements (Zn, Ca, Br, Cu, Fe) that are independent of pigmentation or any underlying variation in density or polymer structure.

In the case of Zn, the pattern across several species of Procellariiformes, but not other species, consisted of highly regular bands of Zn numbering 30–32, which may reflect the estimated number of days of active feather growth or the duration of the moult period. Thus, speculatively, the highly consistent Zn pattern might be the result of a so far unknown diurnal systemic regulation rather than local heterogeneity amongst the follicular stem cells