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Tracing Water Sources of Terrestrial Animal Populations with Stable Isotopes: Laboratory Tests with Crickets and Spiders

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      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, non-radioactive 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.

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      Most cited references 15

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      Isotopic Variations in Meteoric Waters.

       Marlies Craig (1961)
      The relationship between deuterium and oxygen-18 concentrations in natural meteoric waters from many parts of the world has been determined with a mass spectrometer. The isotopic enrichments, relative to ocean water, display a linear correlation over the entire range for waters which have not undergone excessive evaporation.
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        Isotopic ecology ten years after a call for more laboratory experiments.

        About 10 years ago, reviews of the use of stable isotopes in animal ecology predicted explosive growth in this field and called for laboratory experiments to provide a mechanistic foundation to this growth. They identified four major areas of inquiry: (1) the dynamics of isotopic incorporation, (2) mixing models, (3) the problem of routing, and (4) trophic discrimination factors. Because these areas remain central to isotopic ecology, we use them as organising foci to review the experimental results that isotopic ecologists have collected in the intervening 10 years since the call for laboratory experiments. We also review the models that have been built to explain and organise experimental results in these areas.
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          Convergence across biomes to a common rain-use efficiency.

          Water availability limits plant growth and production in almost all terrestrial ecosystems. However, biomes differ substantially in sensitivity of aboveground net primary production (ANPP) to between-year variation in precipitation. Average rain-use efficiency (RUE; ANPP/precipitation) also varies between biomes, supposedly because of differences in vegetation structure and/or biogeochemical constraints. Here we show that RUE decreases across biomes as mean annual precipitation increases. However, during the driest years at each site, there is convergence to a common maximum RUE (RUE(max)) that is typical of arid ecosystems. RUE(max) was also identified by experimentally altering the degree of limitation by water and other resources. Thus, in years when water is most limiting, deserts, grasslands and forests all exhibit the same rate of biomass production per unit rainfall, despite differences in physiognomy and site-level RUE. Global climate models predict increased between-year variability in precipitation, more frequent extreme drought events, and changes in temperature. Forecasts of future ecosystem behaviour should take into account this convergent feature of terrestrial biomes.

            Author and article information

            School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, United States of America
            University of Western Ontario, Canada
            Author notes

            Conceived and designed the experiments: KM. Performed the experiments: KM. Analyzed the data: KM. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: KM JS. Wrote the paper: KM JS.


            Current address: Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado, United States of America

            Role: Editor
            PLoS One
            PLoS ONE
            Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
            31 December 2010
            : 5
            : 12
            McCluney, Sabo. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
            Pages: 11
            Research Article
            Community Ecology
            Freshwater Ecology
            Physiological Ecology
            Terrestrial Ecology



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