Trophic-level interpretation based on delta15N values: implications of tissue-specific fractionation and amino acid composition

Stable nitrogen isotope ratios are routinely used to disentangle trophic relationships. Several authors have discussed factors in addition to diet that might contribute to variability in delta(15)N of consumers, but few studies have explored such factors in detail. For a better understanding of tissue-specific differences in delta(15)N, we examined postlarval euphausiids across a variety of seasons and regions in the Southern Ocean. The concentration and delta(15)N of individual amino acids were analysed to account for both the biochemical and physiological underpinnings of the observed bulk delta(15)N. Euphausiids showed consistent d(15)N differences of 1 to 2 parts per thousand between the digestive gland and abdominal segment, and between reproductively active males and females. These differences in bulk delta(15)N were accompanied by variations in relative proportions of amino acids (up to 5 mol %) and their delta(15)N (up to 11parts per thousand). Aspartic acid and glutamic acid had the strongest influence on bulk delta(15)N, due to their high abundance and variable delta(15)N values. Differences in relative proportions and/or delta(15)N of glycine and alanine were also important for bulk delta(15)N values. Isotopic variations in amino acids between gender and tissues were explained by dominant internal processes such as protein synthesis or degradation for energy supply, and by differences in amino acid pool sizes. Despite the offset in bulk delta(15)N between females and males, several lines of evidence suggested that their trophic levels were similar. Thus, specific amino acid composition and metabolism may confound trophic level interpretations of bulk delta(15)N values. Micronekton are normally analyzed whole in isotopic studies, and we suggest that their analyses should be restricted to comparable tissues such as muscles.


Publication status:
Authors: Schmidt, K., McClelland, J.W., Mente, E., Montoya, J.P., Atkinson, A., Voss, M.

1 January, 2004
Marine Ecology Progress Series / 266