Altitude effect on leaf wax carbon isotopic composition in humid tropical forests

Mong Sin Wu, Sarah J. Feakins, Roberta E. Martin, Alexander Shenkin, Lisa Patrick Bentley, Benjamin Blonder, Norma Salinas, Gregory P. Asner, Yadvinder Malhi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

20 Scopus citations

Abstract

The carbon isotopic composition of plant leaf wax biomarkers is commonly used to reconstruct paleoenvironmental conditions. Adding to the limited calibration information available for modern tropical forests, we analyzed plant leaf and leaf wax carbon isotopic compositions in forest canopy trees across a highly biodiverse, 3.3 km elevation gradient on the eastern flank of the Andes Mountains. We sampled the dominant tree species and assessed their relative abundance in each tree community. In total, 405 sunlit canopy leaves were sampled across 129 species and nine forest plots along the elevation profile for bulk leaf and leaf wax n-alkane (C27–C33) concentration and carbon isotopic analyses (δ13C); a subset (76 individuals, 29 species, five forest plots) were additionally analyzed for n-alkanoic acid (C22–C32) concentrations and δ13C. δ13C values display trends of +0.87 ± 0.16‰ km−1 (95% CI, r2 = 0.96, p < 0.01) for bulk leaves and +1.45 ± 0.33‰ km−1 (95% CI, r2 = 0.94, p < 0.01) for C29 n-alkane, the dominant chain length. These carbon isotopic gradients are defined in multi-species sample sets and corroborated in a widespread genus and several families, suggesting the biochemical response to environment is robust to taxonomic turnover. We calculate fractionations and compare to adiabatic gradients, environmental variables, leaf wax n-alkane concentrations, and sun/shade position to assess factors influencing foliar chemical response. For the 4 km forested elevation range of the Andes, 4–6‰ higher δ13C values are expected for upland versus lowland C3 plant bulk leaves and their n-alkyl lipids, and we expect this pattern to be a systematic feature of very wet tropical montane environments. This elevation dependency of δ13C values should inform interpretations of sedimentary archives, as 13C-enriched values may derive from C4 grasses, petrogenic inputs or upland C3 plants. Finally, we outline the potential for leaf wax carbon isotopes to trace biomarker sourcing within catchments and for paleoaltimetry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Volume206
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017
Externally publishedYes

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Keywords

  • Altitude effect
  • Amazon
  • Andes
  • Biomarker
  • Carbon isotopes
  • Leaf wax
  • Peru

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology

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