Fluxes of carbon, nitrogen, and water between ecosystem components and organisms have great impacts across levels of biological organization. Although much progress has been made in tracing carbon and nitrogen, difficulty remains in tracing water sources from the ecosystem to animals and among animals (the ''water web''). Naturally occurring, nonradioactive isotopes of hydrogen and oxygen in water provide a potential method for tracing water sources. However, using this approach for terrestrial animals is complicated by a change in water isotopes within the body due to differences in activity of heavy and light isotopes during cuticular and transpiratory water losses. Here we present a technique to use stable water isotopes to estimate the mean mix of water sources in a population by sampling a group of sympatric animals over time. Strong correlations between H and O isotopes in the body water of animals collected over time provide linear patterns of enrichment that can be used to predict a mean mix of water sources useful in standard mixing models to determine relative source contribution. Multiple temperature and humidity treatment levels do not greatly alter these relationships, thus having little effect on our ability to estimate this population-level mix of water sources. We show evidence for the validity of using multiple samples of animal body water, collected across time, to estimate the isotopic mix of water sources in a population and more accurately trace water sources. The ability to use isotopes to document patterns of animal water use should be a great asset to biologists globally, especially those studying drylands, droughts, streamside areas, irrigated landscapes, and the effects of climate change.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)