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Sexing adult black-legged kittiwakes by DNA, behavior, and morphology

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Product Type: Journal Article

Year: 2000

Authors: Jodice, P. G. R., R. B. Lanctot, V. A. Gill, D. D. Roby, and S. A. Hatch

Suggested Citation:
Jodice, P. G. R., R. B. Lanctot, V. A. Gill, D. D. Roby, and S. A. Hatch. 2000. Sexing adult black-legged kittiwakes by DNA, behavior, and morphology. Waterbirds 23:407-417.


We sexed adult Black-legged Kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla) using DNA-based genetic techniques, behavior and morphology and compared results from these techniques. Genetic and morphology data were collected on 605 breeding kittiwakes and sex-specific behaviors were recorded for a sub-sample of 285 of these individuals. We compared sex classification based on both genetic and behavioral techniques for this sub-sample to assess the accuracy of the genetic technique. DNA-based techniques correctly sexed 97.2% and sex-specific behaviors 96.5% of this sub-sample. We used the corrected genetic classifications from this sub-sample and the genetic classifications for the remaining birds, under the assumption they were correct, to develop predictive morphometric discriminant function models for all 605 birds. These models accurately predicted the sex of 73-96% of individuals examined, depending on the sample of birds used and the characters included. The most accurate single measurement for determining sex was length of head plus bill, which correctly classified 88% of individuals tested. When both members of a pair were measured, classification levels improved and approached the accuracy of both behavioral observations and genetic analyses. Morphometric techniques were only slightly less accurate than genetic techniques but were easier to implement in the field and less costly. Behavioral observations, while highly accurate, required that birds be easily observable during the breeding season and that birds be identifiable. As such, sex-specific behaviors may best be applied as a confirmation of sex for previously marked birds. All three techniques thus have the potential to be highly accurate, and the selection of one or more will depend on the circumstances of any particular field study. Received 2 February 2000, accepted 1 April 2000.

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