Cerling used the method in a 2006 study that showed how isotope analysis and tracking collars could be used to monitor elephant movements and diets as a way to minimize human-pachyderm conflicts and determine the best locations for sanctuaries.
With elephants endangered and their food sources threatened by climate change and human encroachment, tail-hair isotope analysis "provides a [weekly] record of their diet and behavior" to guide conservation efforts, he says. "We get a continuous record of their diet even though we don't have anyone on the ground watching them."
During the study, elephants occasionally were immobilized with drug-filled dart guns so tracking collars could be placed on them or batteries for the collars replaced. At those times usually annually, but sometimes more often the scientists cut 1.8-foot-long samples of tail hair. The hair grows about an inch per month, so a single hair contained isotopic clues to diet during an 18-month period. During the six-year study, nine tail hairs were collected, covering the entire time span.
GPS collars recorded the elephant's positions every hour, and during the six-year study, at least one of the Royals wore a collar at any given time. Anastasia and Cleopatra both wore collars for one six-month period, showing that 95 percent of the time, they stayed within two-thirds of a mile of each other.
Carbon Isotopes: Tail Hair Reveals Seasonal Diet, Conflict with Cattle
The study's key findings were analyses of ratios of carbon-13 to carbon-12 incorporated in tail hair from the elephants' diet. Plants fall into two groups with two types of photosynthesis. Plants with so-called C3 photosynthesis include trees and shrubs, which have a low ratio of carbon-13 to carbon-12. Plants with C4 photosynthesis include warm-season grasses, whi
|Contact: Lee Siegel|
University of Utah