Stable isotope-based methods have proved to be immensely valuable for ecological studies ranging in focus from animal movements to species interactions and community structure. Nevertheless, the use of these methods is dependent on assumptions about the incorporation and turnover of isotopes within animal tissues, which are oftentimes not explicitly acknowledged and vetted. Thus, the purpose of this review is to provide an overview of the estimation of stable isotope turnover rates in animals, and to highlight the importance of these estimates for ecological studies in terrestrial, freshwater, and marine systems that may use a wide range of stable isotopes. Specifically, we discuss 1) the factors that contribute to variation in turnover among individuals and across species, which influences the use of stable isotopes for diet reconstructions, 2) the differences in turnover among tissues that underlie so-called ‘isotopic clocks’, which are used to estimate the timing of dietary shifts, and 3) the use of turnover rates to estimate nutritional requirements and reconstruct histories of nutritional stress from tissue isotope signatures. As we discuss these topics, we highlight recent works that have effectively used estimates of turnover to design and execute informative ecological studies. Our concluding remarks suggest several steps that will improve our understanding of isotopic turnover and support its integration into a wider range of ecological studies.
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