Special Issue "Stable Isotopes in Ecological Research"

A special issue of Diversity (ISSN 1424-2818).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 November 2018).

Special Issue Editor

Dr. Kent A. Hatch
Website
Guest Editor
Long Island University, Department of Biology, New York, United States

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

The use of stable isotope analysis in ecology has grown exponentially over the past 20 years. A quick search on Scopus using the key words, “stable isotope” and “ecology” yields 8 papers for 1997, but 406 in 2017. Of course, many more papers using stable isotopes in ecology-related studies were published, but did not include these exact key words. However, this simple measure represents an increase of 50-fold.

Ecological applications of stable isotopes were pioneered by geochemists in studies of global element cycles and past climatic conditions. Later, work using stable isotopes in studies of photosynthesis in plants, diet and trophic levels in animals was pioneered in the 1980s and in migration in the 1990s. Stable isotopes are important to understanding how environmental, genetic, and morphological factors combine to influence water and gas exchange in plants, trace the flow of nutrients through individual organisms from one ecosystem to another. Stable isotope analysis is critical to our understanding of paleoecology and in the past 10-15 years major advances in mixing models have allowed more precise understandings of past and present diets of animals. More recently, stable isotope analysis has contributed greatly to our understanding of niche partitioning in plants and animals, compound-specific isotope analysis has proved an important tool in trophic ecology and promises to advance our understand of micropollutants in the environment. The applications of stable isotope analysis are many and varied and their importance to ecological studies has become indispensable.

This special issue seeks to address the breadth of the application of stable isotope analysis to all types of ecological questions as well as to highlight recent advances in the use of stable isotopes in ecology.

Dr. Kent A. Hatch
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

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Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1400 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Published Papers (7 papers)

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Research

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Open AccessArticle
Aquatic Macrophytes are Seasonally Important Dietary Resources for Moose
Diversity 2019, 11(11), 209; https://doi.org/10.3390/d11110209 - 01 Nov 2019
Abstract
Moose (Alces alces) are generalist herbivores, but are important aquatic-terrestrial ecotone specialists. Aquatic macrophytes are a high-quality food source for moose during summer, but the importance of aquatic food sources to the moose diet is difficult to study. We used stable [...] Read more.
Moose (Alces alces) are generalist herbivores, but are important aquatic-terrestrial ecotone specialists. Aquatic macrophytes are a high-quality food source for moose during summer, but the importance of aquatic food sources to the moose diet is difficult to study. We used stable isotope analysis of carbon and nitrogen from moose hooves and forage (terrestrial plants, aquatic macrophytes, and arboreal lichen) to assess the diet of moose at Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA, using Bayesian mixing models. We also evaluated the isotopic variability along chronologies of serially sampled hooves. Overall, our mixing models indicate that 13%–27% of the summer moose diet was aquatic in origin. Among moose that died during winter, body condition was impaired and hoof δ15N was higher where aquatic habitats were sparse. Although isotope chronologies preserved in hooves could significantly enhance our understanding of ungulate foraging ecology, interpretation of such chronologies is presently limited by our lack of knowledge pertaining to hoof growth rate and seasonal growth variability related to age and health. Distinct isotopic values among terrestrial plants, aquatic macrophytes, and arboreal lichens indicate that continued methodological advances in stable isotope ecology will lead to more precise estimates of the contribution of aquatic feeding to moose population dynamics and other ungulates. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Stable Isotopes in Ecological Research)
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Open AccessArticle
Stable Isotope Analyses of Multiple Tissues of Great Shearwaters (Ardenna Gravis) Reveals Long-Term Dietary Stability, Short-Term Changes in Diet, and Can be Used as a Tool to Monitor Food Webs
Diversity 2019, 11(9), 163; https://doi.org/10.3390/d11090163 - 12 Sep 2019
Cited by 1
Abstract
The great shearwater (Ardenna gravis) is a common pelagic bird with a distribution that spans almost the entire Atlantic basin, which in conjunction with its relatively high abundance, makes great shearwaters an effective bio indicator. We compared δ13C and [...] Read more.
The great shearwater (Ardenna gravis) is a common pelagic bird with a distribution that spans almost the entire Atlantic basin, which in conjunction with its relatively high abundance, makes great shearwaters an effective bio indicator. We compared δ13C and δ15N values from the feathers, red blood cells (RBCs), and plasma of great shearwaters collected in 2014 and 2015 from the waters off Massachusetts and Cape Cod. The δ13C and δ15N values of RBCs were quite constant between sampling periods and years, suggesting a generally stable food web over that time period. However, the δ13C of plasma indicates a small seasonal change in diet between July and September for both years, with plasma δ15N values suggesting a slight increase in trophic level late in summer. Comparison of the δ15N of RBCs and plasma indicates that great shearwaters experienced a diet shift during the first few weeks of summer 2014, but not in 2015. Comparisons with other studies suggest that these shearwaters feed at a lower trophic level than great shearwaters sampled in the Bay of Fundy and that there is a decrease in δ13C with increasing latitude, which could indicate a more pelagic diet in northern waters. Stable isotope analysis of the sixth primary feathers provided evidence that these feathers are molted in the Northern Hemisphere and that the diet of great shearwaters shortly after arrival was different in 2014 and 2015. This study demonstrates that within species comparisons of tissue isotopic signatures over time and comparisons of isotopic signatures of tissues with different turnover rates, can detect changes in diet and be used as a tool to monitor for changes in marine food webs over time and space. The relevant signals remain informative even in the absence of species-specific data on tissue-diet discrimination factors, tissue turnover rates, or knowledge of dietary components and their stable isotopic signatures, suggesting dietary changes indicative of a corresponding change in the food web. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Stable Isotopes in Ecological Research)
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Open AccessArticle
Chiseling Away at the Dogma of Dietary Specialization in Dipodomys Microps
Diversity 2019, 11(6), 92; https://doi.org/10.3390/d11060092 - 14 Jun 2019
Abstract
Dipodomys microps, the chisel-toothed kangaroo rat, is heralded as one of few mammalian herbivores capable of dietary specialization. Throughout its range, the diet of D. microps is thought to consist primarily of Atriplex confertifolia (saltbush), a C4 plant, and sparing amounts [...] Read more.
Dipodomys microps, the chisel-toothed kangaroo rat, is heralded as one of few mammalian herbivores capable of dietary specialization. Throughout its range, the diet of D. microps is thought to consist primarily of Atriplex confertifolia (saltbush), a C4 plant, and sparing amounts of C3 plants. Using stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen as natural diet tracers, we asked whether D. microps is an obligate specialist on saltbush. We analyzed hair samples of D. microps for isotopes from historic and recent museum specimens (N = 66). A subset of samples (N = 17) from 2017 that were associated with field notes on plant abundances were further evaluated to test how local saltbush abundance affects its inclusion in the diet of D. microps. Overall, we found that the chisel-toothed kangaroo rat facultatively specializes on saltbush and that the degree of specialization has varied over time and space. Moreover, saltbush abundance dictates its inclusion in the diet. Furthermore, roughly a quarter of the diet is comprised of insects, and over the past century, insects have become more prevalent and saltbush less prevalent in the diet. We suggest that environmental factors such as climate change and rangeland expansion have caused D. microps to include more C3 plants and insects. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Stable Isotopes in Ecological Research)
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Open AccessArticle
The Effects of Temperature on the Turnover of δ18O and δD in Juvenile Corn Snakes (Elaphe guttata): A Novel Study with Ecological Implications
Diversity 2019, 11(2), 19; https://doi.org/10.3390/d11020019 - 30 Jan 2019
Abstract
The use of natural variation in stable isotope ratios continues to be used in ecological studies without proper validation through laboratory studies. This study tested the effects of temperature, time, and turnover in the scales of juvenile corn snakes (Elaphe guttata) [...] Read more.
The use of natural variation in stable isotope ratios continues to be used in ecological studies without proper validation through laboratory studies. This study tested the effects of temperature, time, and turnover in the scales of juvenile corn snakes (Elaphe guttata) in a controlled, laboratory environment. Snakes were assigned to four treatment groups (24 °C, 27 °C, 30 °C, and freely thermoregulating), and one snake from each group was sacrificed weekly. Scales from each snake were washed, dried, and analyzed for δD and δ18O at the Stable Isotope Research Facility for Environmental Research at the University of Utah. The effects of temperature on the turnover of tissues was only significant when comparing the thermoregulating group to the pooled treatment groups (24 °C, 27 °C, and 30 °C) in the δ18O of scales (p = 0.006). After normalizing data on the δD and δ18O using percent change for comparison, δ18O appeared to be turning over at a faster rate than δD as indicated by an analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) test for homogeneity of slopes (F1,53 = 69.7, p < 0.001). With further testing of assumptions, a modification of our methods could provide information on the composition of drinking water sources in a species that switches between two isotopically distinct sources, such as during seasonal shifts in habitat or migration, and/or estimates of long-term field metabolic rates based on the turnover of these isotopes. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Stable Isotopes in Ecological Research)
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Open AccessArticle
Metabolic Fates of Evening Crop-Stored Sugar in Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris)
Diversity 2019, 11(1), 9; https://doi.org/10.3390/d11010009 - 15 Jan 2019
Cited by 4
Abstract
During the day, hummingbirds quickly metabolize floral nectar to fuel high metabolic demands, but are unable to feed at night. Though stored fat is the primary nocturnal metabolic fuel, it has been suggested that hummingbirds store nectar in their crop to offset fat [...] Read more.
During the day, hummingbirds quickly metabolize floral nectar to fuel high metabolic demands, but are unable to feed at night. Though stored fat is the primary nocturnal metabolic fuel, it has been suggested that hummingbirds store nectar in their crop to offset fat expenditure in the night or to directly fuel their first foraging trip in the morning. We examine the use of crop-stored sugar in the nocturnal energy budget of ruby-throated hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) using respirometry and 13C stable isotope analysis. Hummingbirds were fed a 13C-enriched sugar solution before lights-out and held in respirometry chambers overnight without food. Respirometry results indicate that the hummingbirds metabolized the sugar in the evening meal in less than 2 h, and subsequently primarily catabolized fat. Breath stable isotope signatures provide the key insight that the hummingbirds converted a substantial portion of an evening meal to fats, which they later catabolized to support their overnight metabolism and spare endogenous energy stores. These results show that the value of a hummingbird’s evening meal depends on how much of this energy was converted to fat. Furthermore, this suggests that evening hyperphagia is an important energy maximization strategy, especially during energetically expensive periods such as migration or incubation. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Stable Isotopes in Ecological Research)
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Review

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Open AccessReview
The Importance of Isotopic Turnover for Understanding Key Aspects of Animal Ecology and Nutrition
Diversity 2019, 11(5), 84; https://doi.org/10.3390/d11050084 - 26 May 2019
Cited by 9
Abstract
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 [...] Read more.
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. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Stable Isotopes in Ecological Research)
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Open AccessReview
A Guide to Using Compound-Specific Stable Isotope Analysis to Study the Fates of Molecules in Organisms and Ecosystems
Diversity 2019, 11(1), 8; https://doi.org/10.3390/d11010008 - 11 Jan 2019
Cited by 22
Abstract
The measurement of stable isotopes in ‘bulk’ animal and plant tissues (e.g., muscle or leaf) has become an important tool for studies of functional diversity from organismal to continental scales. In consumers, isotope values reflect their diet, trophic position, physiological state, and geographic [...] Read more.
The measurement of stable isotopes in ‘bulk’ animal and plant tissues (e.g., muscle or leaf) has become an important tool for studies of functional diversity from organismal to continental scales. In consumers, isotope values reflect their diet, trophic position, physiological state, and geographic location. However, interpretation of bulk tissue isotope values can be confounded by variation in primary producer baseline values and by overlapping values among potential food items. To resolve these issues, biologists increasingly use compound-specific isotope analysis (CSIA), in which the isotope values of monomers that constitute a macromolecule (e.g., amino acids in protein) are measured. In this review, we provide the theoretical underpinnings for CSIA, summarize its methodology and recent applications, and identify future research directions. The key principle is that some monomers are reliably routed directly from the diet into animal tissue, whereas others are biochemically transformed during assimilation. As a result, CSIA of consumer tissue simultaneously provides information about an animal’s nutrient sources (e.g., food items or contributions from gut microbes) and its physiology (e.g., nitrogen excretion mode). In combination, these data clarify many of the confounding issues in bulk analysis and enable novel precision for tracing nutrient and energy flow within and among organisms and ecosystems. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Stable Isotopes in Ecological Research)
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