AB - Vol. 4, No. 2 - Feature article

The organic matrix in the shell of Mercenaria mercenaria can serve as a record of anthropogenic nitrogen inputs into coastal waters. Photo: R.H. Carmichael

Carmichael RH, Hattenrath T, Valiela I, Michener RH

 

Nitrogen stable isotopes in the shell of Mercenaria mercenaria trace wastewater inputs from watersheds to estuarine ecosystems

 

Bivalves incorporate materials from the ambient water into their shell, as well as into the soft tissues. The shell undergoes little subsequent metabolism, and thus records longer-term environmental conditions, e.g. nitrogen inputs to estuaries. Carmichael and colleagues rigorously tested the utility of the organic matrix in the shell of the hard clam Mercenaria mercenaria as a nitrogen tracer. They found that δ15N values reflected estuary-specific wastewater inputs. In combination with sclerochronological aging techniques and other elemental analyses, the shell can be used to reconstruct the clam's diet, and the input of nitrogen to coastal waters over time.

 

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