Assessing trophic position from nitrogen isotope ratios: effective calibration against spatially varying baselines

Woodcock, Paul, Edwards, David P., Newton, Rob J., Edwards, Felicity A., Khen, Chey Vun, Bottrell, Simon H., and Hamer, Keith C. (2012) Assessing trophic position from nitrogen isotope ratios: effective calibration against spatially varying baselines. Naturwissenschaften, 99 (4). pp. 275-283.

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Nitrogen isotope signatures (δ¹⁵N) provide powerful measures of the trophic positions of individuals, populations and communities. Obtaining reliable consumer δ¹⁵N values depends upon controlling for spatial variation in plant δ¹⁵N values, which form the trophic 'baseline'. However, recent studies make differing assumptions about the scale over which plant δ¹⁵N values vary, and approaches to baseline control differ markedly. We examined spatial variation in the δ¹⁵N values of plants and ants sampled from eight 150-m transects in both unlogged and logged rainforests. We then investigated whether ant δ¹⁵N values were related to variation in plant δ¹⁵N values following baseline correction of ant values at two spatial scales: (1) using 'local' means of plants collected from the same transect and (2) using 'global' means of plants collected from all transects within each forest type. Plant δ¹⁵N baselines varied by the equivalent of one trophic level within each forest type. Correcting ant δ¹⁵N values using global plant means resulted in consumer values that were strongly positively related to the transect baseline, whereas local corrections yielded reliable estimates of consumer trophic positions that were largely independent of transect baselines. These results were consistent at the community level and when three trophically distinct ant subfamilies and eight abundant ant species were considered separately. Our results suggest that assuming baselines do not vary can produce misleading estimates of consumer trophic positions. We therefore emphasise the importance of clearly defining and applying baseline corrections at a scale that accounts for spatial variation in plant δ¹⁵N values.

Item ID: 24750
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1432-1904
Keywords: stable isotope analysis, trophic structure, biogeochemistry, scale-dependence, nitrogen cycling, selective logging
Date Deposited: 30 Jan 2013 04:41
FoR Codes: 05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050202 Conservation and Biodiversity @ 100%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960899 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity of Environments not elsewhere classified @ 100%
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