Trophic Positions


    Animal Migration Patterns


    Soil Microbial Ecology


Stable isotope analysis of a vast range of materials pertaining to ecological research allows researchers to access information not readily attainable by other standard analytical techniques. Stable isotopes are frequently used by ecologists as tracers in biological systems, enabling the tracking of elemental cycling within an ecosystem. Variation in the isotopic signatures of different geographic regions allows isotopes to be utilised as tracers of migration, whilst the principles of isotopic fractionation allow biogeochemical processes to be interrogated to levels of details unattainable from elemental compositions alone.

For example, carbon isotopes can be used to determine the primary production source responsible for energy flow in an ecosystem, whereas nitrogen isotopes are useful in identifying the trophic level position of an organism. Sulphur isotopes can distinguish benthic producers from pelagic producers, as well as marsh plant from phytoplankton producers.

Developing our understanding of these innate relationships between living organisms and their environment through stable isotope analysis aids our stewardship of the natural world to ensure that future generations enjoy the same wonders that we do today.

Publications on ecology using our instruments

Our customers use our instruments to do some amazing research in the ecology application field. To show you how they perform their research and how they use our IRMS instruments, we have collected a range of peer-reviewed publications which cite our products. You can find the citations below and then follow the links to the publishing journal should you wish to download the publication.

If you would like to investigate our available citations in more detail, or email the citation list to yourself or your colleagues then take a look at our full citation database.

155 results:

Ecosystem nitrogen fixation throughout the snow-free period in subarctic tundra: Effects of willow and birch litter addition and warming
Global Change Biology (2016)
Kathrin Rousk, Anders Michelsen

Nitrogen (N) fixation in moss-associated cyanobacteria is one of the main sources of available N for N-limited ecosystems like subarctic tundra. Yet, N2 fixation in mosses is strongly influenced by soil moisture and temperature. Thus, temporal scaling up of low frequency in situ measurements to several weeks, months or even the entire growing season without taking into account changes in abiotic conditions cannot capture the variation in moss-associated N2 fixation. We therefore aimed to estimate moss-associated N2 fixation throughout the snow-free period in subarctic tundra in field experiments simulating climate change: willow (Salix myrsinifolia) and birch (Betula pubescens spp. tortuosa) litter addition, and warming. To achieve this, we established relationships between measured in situ N2 fixation rates and soil moisture and soil temperature and used high-resolution measurements of soil moisture and soil temperature (hourly from May – October) to model N2 fixation. The modelled N2 fixation rates were highest in the warmed (2.8 ±0.3 kg N. ha-1) and birch litter addition plots (2.8 ±0.2 kg N ha-1), and lowest in the plots receiving willow litter (1.6 ±0.2 kg N ha-1). The control plots had intermediate rates (2.2 ±0.2 kg N ha-1). Further, N2 fixation was highest during the summer in the warmed plots, but was lowest in the litter addition plots during the same period. The temperature and moisture dependence of N2 fixation was different between the climate change treatments, indicating a shift in the N2 fixer community. Our findings, using a combined empirical and modelling approach, suggest that a longer snow-free period and increased temperatures in a future climate will likely lead to higher N2 fixation rates in mosses. Yet, the consequences of increased litter fall on moss-associated N2 fixation due to shrub expansion in the Arctic will depend on the shrub species’ litter traits.
Tags: nitrogen , ecol , elem

Feeding patterns of two sympatric shark predators in coastal ecosystems of an oceanic island
Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences (2016)
Clément Trystram, Karyne Rogers, Marc Soria, Sébastien Jaquemet

Stomach contents and stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analyses (δ13C and δ15N) were used to investigate the trophic ecology of two apex predators, tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier) and bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas), from Reunion Island to describe their dietary habits at both the population and individual levels. In this oceanic island, the tiger and bull sharks were more piscivorous and teutophagous than noted in previous research from other localities. The δ13C values suggested that bull sharks depended on more neritic organic matter sources than tiger sharks, confirming a coastal habitat preference for bull sharks. Moreover, the total length of the bull shark influenced δ13C values, with smaller individuals being more coastal than larger individuals. All indicators suggest that there is a higher degree of similarity between individual tiger sharks compared with the more heterogeneous bull shark population, which is composed of individuals who specialize on different prey. These results suggest tha...
Tags: carbon , nitrogen , ecol , ocea , elem

N/P imbalance as a key driver for the invasion of oligothrophic dune systems by a woody legume
Oikos (2016)
Florian Ulm, Christine Hellmann, Cristina Cruz, Cristina Máguas

Oligotrophic ecosystems, previously considered to be more resilient to invasive plants, are now recognised to be highly vulnerable to invasions. In these systems, woody legumes show belowground ecosystem engineering characteristics that enable invasion, however, the underlying processes are not well understood. Using a Portuguese primary dune ecosystem as an oligotrophic model system, belowground biomass pools, turnover rates and stoichiometry of a native (Stauracanthus spectabilis) and an invasive legume (Acacia longifolia) were compared and related to changes in the foliage of the surrounding native (Corema album) vegetation. We hypothesized that the invasive legume requires less phosphorus per unit of biomass produced and exhibits an enhanced nutrient turnover compared to the native vegetation, which could drive invasion by inducing a systemic N/P imbalance. Compared with the native legumes, A. longifolia plants had larger canopies, higher SOM levels and lower tissue P concentrations. These attributes were strongly related to legume influence as measured by increased foliar N content and less depleted δ15N signatures in the surrounding C. album vegetation. Furthermore, greater root and rhizosphere mass and increased nutrient turnover in the rhizosphere of the invader were associated with depleted foliar P in C. album. Our results emphasize that while A. longifolia itself maintains an efficient phosphorus use in biomass production, at the same time it exerts a strong impact on the N/P balance of the native system. Moreover, this study highlights the engineering of a belowground structure of roots and rhizosphere as a crucial driver for invasion, due to its central role in nutrient turnover. These findings provide new evidence that, under nutrient-limited conditions, considering co-limitation and nutrient cycling in oligotrophic systems is essential to understand the engineering character of invasive woody legumes.
Tags: nitrogen , soil , ecol , elem

Can stable isotopes be used to infer site fidelity of nekton in open coastal areas?
Ecological Indicators (2016)
C. Vinagre, C. Madeira, M. Dias, L. Narciso, V. Mendonça

Stable isotope analysis has been applied to the investigation of movement in several species, including marine animals. However, its application to nekton living in open coastal areas is still very scarce. This study aims to test if stable isotope analysis can be used for this purpose over a much wider spatial scale than previously investigated. Stable isotope analysis was used to 1) investigate isotopic variation in shrimp and fish, in 11 sites, along a 160km coastal stretch, to 2) determine the site fidelity of the individuals within each species, and to 3) test the relation between the body size of the individuals within each species, at each site and the percentage of isotopic deviants. Site fidelity was the highest for the intertidal fish Gobius paganellus and Coryphoblennius galerita, with 60% and 64% of individuals considered residents, respectively, and lowest for the demersal fish Diplodus vulgaris and Diplodus sargus with 23% and 33% of resident individuals, respectively. The percentage of isotopic deviants was not correlated with length in any species. Site fidelity was considerably higher than that previously found for other open coastal areas and similar to more structured environments, like coastal ponds. It was hypothesized that the complex tri-dimensional structure of the rocky reefs that occur in this area, often encompassing channels and tide pools, offers conditions favourable to high site fidelity. This study shows that stable isotopes can be used to infer nekton movement in wide open coastal areas.
Tags: carbon , nitrogen , ecol , elem

Soil organic carbon stocks in estuarine and marine mangrove ecosystems are driven by nutrient colimitation of P and N
Ecology and Evolution (2016)
Christian Weiss, Joanna Weiss, Jens Boy, Issi Iskandar, Robert Mikutta, Georg Guggenberger

Mangroves play an important role in carbon sequestration, but soil organic carbon (SOC) stocks differ between marine and estuarine mangroves, suggesting differing processes and drivers of SOC accumulation. Here, we compared undegraded and degraded marine and estuarine mangroves in a regional approach across the Indonesian archipelago for their SOC stocks and evaluated possible drivers imposed by nutrient limitations along the land-to-sea gradients. SOC stocks in natural marine mangroves (271–572 Mg ha−1 m−1) were much higher than under estuarine mangroves (100–315 Mg ha−1 m−1) with a further decrease caused by degradation to 80–132 Mg ha−1 m−1. Soils differed in C/N ratio (marine: 29–64; estuarine: 9–28), δ15N (marine: −0.6 to 0.7‰; estuarine: 2.5 to 7.2‰), and plant-available P (marine: 2.3–6.3 mg kg−1; estuarine: 0.16–1.8 mg kg−1). We found N and P supply of sea-oriented mangroves primarily met by dominating symbiotic N2 fixation from air and P import from sea, while mangroves on the landward gradient increasingly covered their demand in N and P from allochthonous sources and SOM recycling. Pioneer plants favored by degradation further increased nutrient recycling from soil resulting in smaller SOC stocks in the topsoil. These processes explained the differences in SOC stocks along the land-to-sea gradient in each mangrove type as well as the SOC stock differences observed between estuarine and marine mangrove ecosystems. This first large-scale evaluation of drivers of SOC stocks under mangroves thus suggests a continuum in mangrove functioning across scales and ecotypes and additionally provides viable proxies for carbon stock estimations in PES or REDD schemes.
Tags: carbon , nitrogen , soil , ecol , elem

Nitrogen fixation by the reluctant diazotroph Cylindrospermopsis raciborskii (Cyanophyceae)
Journal of Phycology (2016)
Anusuya Willis, Ann W. Chuang, Michele A. Burford

Nitrogen fixation has been proposed as a mechanism that allows the diazotrophic cyanobacterium Cylindrospermopsis raciborskii to bloom in nitrogen-limited freshwater systems. However, it is unclear whether dinitrogen-fixation (N2-fixation) can supplement available dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) for growth, or only provides minimum nitrogen (N) for cell maintenance under DIN deplete conditions. Additionally, the rate at which cells can switch between DIN use and N2-fixation is unknown. This study investigated N2-fixation under a range of nitrate concentrations. Cultures were grown with pre-treatments of nitrate replete (single dose 941 μmol NO3 ̅. L−1) and N-free conditions and then either received a single dose of 941 μmol NO3 ̅. L−1 (N941), 118 μmol. L−1 NO3 ̅ (N118) or 0 N. Heterocysts appeared from days 3 - 5 when treatments of high NO3 ̅ were transferred to N starvation media (N941:N0), and from day-5 in N941 transferred to N118 treatments. Conversely, transferring cells from N0 to N941 resulted in heterocysts being discarded from day-3 and day 5 for N0:N118. Heterocyst appearance correlated with a detectable rate of N2-fixation and up-regulation of nifH gene expression, the discard of heterocysts occurred after sequential reduction of nifH expression and N2-fixation. Nitrate uptake rates were not affected by pre-treatment, suggesting no regulation or saturation of this uptake pathway. These data demonstrate that for C. raciborskii, N2-fixation is regulated by the production or discard of heterocysts. In conclusion, this study has shown that N2-fixation only provides enough N to support relatively low growth under N-limited conditions, and does not supplement nitrate to increase growth rates.
Tags: carbon , nitrogen , soil , ecol , elem

Can intercropping with the world's three major beverage plants help improve the water use of rubber trees?
Journal of Applied Ecology (2016)
Junen Wu, Wenjie Liu, Chunfeng Chen

1.The dramatic expansion of rubber plantations in mainland Southeast Asia and Southwest China has caused many eco-environmental problems, especially negative hydrological consequences. These problems have gradually worsened and pose formidable threats to rubber agriculture, especially in light of increasingly frequent extreme weather events. Although rubber-based agroforestry systems are regarded as the best solution for improving the sustainability of rubber agriculture and environmental conservation, plant water use and related interactions have rarely been examined in such systems. 2.We primarily used stable isotope (δD, δ18O, and δ13C) methods to test whether intercropping could improve the water use and extreme weather tolerance (extreme cold and drought in our study) of rubber trees in three types of promising agroforestry systems (i.e. rubber with tea, coffee, and cocoa) in Xishuangbanna, China. 3.We found that the rubber tree is a drought-avoidance plant with strong plasticity with respect to water uptake. This characteristic is reflected by its ability to cope with serious seasonal drought, allowing it to avoid interspecific competition for water. The rubber trees showed wasteful water behaviour unless they were intercropped with tea or coffee. However, these intercropped species exhibited drought-tolerance strategies and maintained lower water use efficiencies to strengthen their competitive capacity for surface soil water. The stable δ13C values of the intercrop leaves indicated that all the agroforestry systems have stable internal microclimatic environments or higher resistance. 4.Synthesis and applications. This study suggests that interspecific competition for water can enhance the water use efficiency of drought-avoidance plants (i.e. rubber trees) and lead to complementarity between the root distributions of plants in rubber agroforestry systems (i.e. rubber with tea, coffee, and cocoa). All agroforestry systems have higher resistance, but tea was the most suitable intercrop in terms of water use because the interspecific competition for water was moderate and the agroforestry system retained much more soil water and improved the water use efficiency of the rubber tree. Considering the root characteristics of the tea trees, we suggest that the crops selected for intercropping with rubber trees should have short lateral roots and a moderate amount of fine roots that overlap with the roots of the rubber trees in the shallow soil layer.
Tags: carbon , nitrogen , soil , ecol , elem

Unraveling migratory connectivity of two European diving ducks: a stable isotope approach
European Journal of Wildlife Research (2016)
Alain Caizergues, Steven L. Van Wilgenburg, Keith A. Hobson

Quantifying the strength of migratory connectivity or the degree to which breeding and wintering populations are connected is crucial for conservation and management of migratory birds. Using stable hydrogen isotope ratios of secondary flight feathers (δ2Hf), we assessed the breeding origins/locations of 666 common pochards (Aythya ferina) and 190 tufted ducks (A. fuligula) captured in France during the 2005–2006 and 2008–2009 wintering seasons. Isotopic values of common pochards wintering on Grand-lieu Lake (western France) displayed a marked bimodal spatial distribution supportive of strong contributions of both northern (60–65° of latitude) and central European (45–55° of latitude) origins. According to the temporal distribution of δ2Hf values, the presence of common pochards of northern origin reached a maximum at the peak of the wintering season (December–January). In contrast, tufted duck did not display a clear bimodal pattern in δ2Hf, with individuals displaying a more northerly origin (60–70° of latitude), likely of Russian and Scandinavian origin. First-year individuals had more northern origins than adults, suggesting that either isotopic discrimination differed among age groups or, more probably, that some adults may undergo moult at latitudes lower than that of their breeding ground. Tufted ducks with northerly δ2Hf values were observed early in the season in individuals sampled in eastern France and late in the season in those sampled in western France. The effects of winter severity on the distribution of individuals over the wintering range were supported for the tufted duck with more northerly values recorded during harsh winters. Management implications of these results are discussed.

Flyway population delineation in Taiga Bean Geese Anser fabalis fabalis revealed by multi-element feather stable isotope analysis
Ibis (2016)
Anthony D. Fox, Keith A. Hobson, Adriaan de Jong, Kevin J. Kardynal, Geoff Koehler, Thomas Heinicke

Fundamental to effective management of migratory waterbird populations is an understanding of their flyway delineation. Taiga Bean Geese Anser fabalis fabalis wintering in NW Denmark, Scotland and England are considered to originate from northern and central Sweden, southern and central Norway (‘Western flyway’), those wintering in southern Sweden, NE and southern Denmark are considered to originate from northern Fennoscandia and western Russia (‘Central flyway’), and those wintering in eastern Germany and Poland (which show far less favourable conservation status) are thought to come from western Siberia (‘Eastern 1 flyway’), although evidence to demonstrate this has largely been lacking. Evidence for different natal and moult origins of Taiga Bean Geese was investigated using stable isotope analyses of feathers of four elements (δ2H, δ13C, δ15N and δ34S). There were significant differences in isotopic composition of feathers from Swedish (Central) and German (Eastern 1) wintering populations and those moulting in Sweden in late summer (Western), which validated the three proposed major management flyway units above. The strong continental gradient in the stable hydrogen isotope ratios in precipitation (δ2Hp) across the region was used to assign wintering birds geospatially to natal and moulting origin, indicating separate natal and moulting areas for German (n = 37, from western Siberia) and Swedish (n = 20, Fennoscandia and more western Russia) wintering birds. These results confirm the largely discrete nature of these three flyways and contribute significantly to our ability to deliver effective targeted and appropriate research, monitoring and management actions throughout the ranges of these flyways.
Tags: hydrogen , ecol , elem

Plasticity in reproduction and nutrition in wood-boring bivalves (Xylophaga atlantica) from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge
Marine Biology (2016)
Sylvie Marylène Gaudron, T. Haga, H. Wang, S. R. Laming, S. Duperron

High densities of the wood-boring bivalve Xylophaga atlantica colonized pine wood cubes in colonization devices deployed at 2279 m depth for 414 days (14 July 2007–31 August 2008) near hydrothermal vents at the Rainbow site on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge (36°13.7454′N/33°54.0513′W). Histological and biometric observations on specimens with shell lengths (SLs) of 0.5–4.2 mm revealed three cohorts in this dioecious population. The first cohort was dominated by mature females, each with an estimated fecundity of ~450 oocytes with a mean diameter of 28.0 ± 3.9 µm (maximum diameter 40.0 µm); an intermediate cohort was a mix of males and females with SL at first maturity of ≤1.7 mm; the third cohort was exclusively morphologically distinct, mature, dwarf males, SL ~500 µm. These dwarf males were attached to the dorsal shell surfaces of females in the first cohort. The difference in the SL of Prodissoconch I (~60 µm) and Prodissoconch II (500–530 µm) confirmed planktotrophy. Based on their carbon and nitrogen stable isotope ratios, and a paedomorphic morphology suggesting they are ill-equipped to bore wood, it seems likely that the dwarf males are heterotrophic filter-feeders. Fluorescence in situ hybridization showed, however, that dwarf males hosted a few Gammaproteobacteria in their gills. The absence of a bacterial signal in the germ cells and developing oocytes of females implies that direct trans-ovarial inheritance of symbiotic bacteria does not occur in X. atlantica.
Tags: carbon , nitrogen , ecol , elem