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Variation in discrimination factors (∆15N and ∆13C): the effect of diet isotopic values and applications for diet reconstruction

AuthorsCaut, Stéphane ; Angulo, Elena
diet isotopic value
Issue DateApr-2009
PublisherBritish Ecological Society
CitationJournal of Applied Ecology 2009, 46, 443–453
Abstract1. The use of stable isotopic techniques to study animal diets and trophic levels requires a priori estimates of discrimination factors (∆13C and ∆15N, also called fractionation factors), which are the differences in isotopic composition between an animal and its diet. Previous studies have shown that these parameters depend on several sources of variation (e.g. taxon, environment, tissue) but diet as a source of variation still needs assessment. 2. We conducted an extensive review of the literature (66 publications) concerning estimates of animal-diet ∆13C (n = 290) and ∆15N (n = 268). We analysed this data set to test the effect of diet isotopic ratio on the discrimination factor, taking into account taxa, tissues, environments and lipid extraction treatments. Our results showed differences among taxonomic classes for ∆13C, but not for ∆15N, and significant differences among tissues for both ∆13C and ∆15N. We found a significant negative relationship between both, ∆13C and ∆15N, with their corresponding diet isotopic ratios. This relationship was found also within taxonomic classes for mammals (∆13C and ∆15N), birds (∆13C), fishes (∆13C and ∆15N) and invertebrates (∆13C and ∆15N). From these relationships, we propose a method to calculate discrimination factors based on data on diet isotope ratios (termed the ‘Diet-Dependent Discrimination Factor’, DDDF). 3. To investigate current practice in the use of discrimination factors, we reviewed studies that used multi-resource isotopic models. More than 60% of models used a discrimination factor coming from a different species or tissues, and in more than 70% of models, only one ∆13C or ∆15N was used for all resources, even if resources had very different isotopic ratios. Also, we estimated DDDFs for the studies that used isotopic models. More than 40% used ∆15N values and more than 33% used ∆13C values differing > 2‰ from estimated DDDFs. 4. Synthesis and applications. Over the last decade, applied ecologists have discovered the potential of stable isotopes for animal diet reconstruction, but the successful adoption of the method relies on a good estimation of discrimination factors. We draw attention to the high variability in discrimination factors, advise caution in the use of single discrimination factors in isotopic models, and point to a method for obtaining adequate values for this parameter when discrimination factors cannot be measured experimentally. Future studies should focus on understanding why dis- crimination factors vary as a function of the isotopic value of the diet.
Publisher version (URL)http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2664.2009.01620.x/pdf
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