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Experimental variation in the spatial deposition of trace metals in feathers revealed using synchrotron x-ray fluorescence

Cite this dataset

Akhter, Fardausi et al. (2021). Experimental variation in the spatial deposition of trace metals in feathers revealed using synchrotron x-ray fluorescence [Dataset]. Dryad.


Feathers can be used to investigate exposure to pollution in birds because they are a secondary route for the excretion of trace elements. Evidence based on analytical imaging and spectroscopy suggests that the spatial distribution of the essential trace element zinc within feathers is related to melanin pigmentation. However, our understanding of how trace elements are deposited into growing feathers is poor and has been hampered by a lack of analytical tools to examine the localization of trace elements within a feather. Here, synchrotron micro X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy was used to map zinc directly within the barb and barbules of lesser scaup (Aythya affinis) feathers grown after experimental increases in dietary zinc. The results showed distinct spatial variation in zinc within barbs and barbules, with higher levels observed in the latter. Furthermore, increases in dietary zinc were found to increase the relative levels of zinc throughout the barbules from the base to the tip of the feather. Finally, analysis of feather cross sections revealed that regions of the feather barb and barbules with higher melanosome density also contained higher levels of zinc. These results provide a more detailed understanding of zinc and melanosome arrangement within the feather barb and barbules. Moreover, these results provide further support for the use of feathers as a noninvasive tool to study exposure to trace elements and highlight the utility of X-ray spectroscopy in studies investigating impacts of a rapidly changing environment on
wild bird health. 


This data is associated with Akhter et al., 2020. Reference: Akhter F, Fairhurst GD, Blanchard PER, Machin KL, Blyth RIR, Thompson J, McLeod J, Feng R, Soos C. Experimental variation in the spatial deposition of trace metals in feathers revealed using synchrotron X-ray fluorescence. X-Ray Spectrom. 2020;1–9. Available at:

Please see the materials and methods section for details. 


Environment and Climate Change Canada

Strategic Technology Applications of Genomics in the Environment (STAGE)

University of Saskatchewan

Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council

Canadian Light Source (Canada)

Government of Saskatchewan

Canadian Institutes of Health Research

National Research Council Canada

Western Economic Diversification Canada

Canada Foundation for Innovation