MEPS 140:285-298 (1996)  -  doi:10.3354/meps140285

Stable carbon isotopes in seagrasses: variability in ratios and use in ecological studies

Hemminga MA, Mateo MA

Seagrass δ13C values reported in the literature show variation over a range of approximately 20o/oo. A frequency histogram constructed on the basis of the collected data set shows a unimodal distribution, with values between -10 and -11o/oo (relative to the PDB standard) found with the highest frequency. Seagrasses thus have stable carbon isotope signatures which are typically less depleted in 13C than those of other groups of aquatic primary producers. This points to a characteristic set of physiological, anatomical and perhaps environmental features shared by all seagrasses. A significant negative correlation exists between seagrass δ13C values and geographical latitude of the sampling location, indicating that from tropical to temperate regions seagrasses tend to become more 13C depleted. The physiological and environmental causes of variability are discussed. The most relevant environmental factors inducing variation in seagrass δ13C values appear to be, in order of decreasing importance, source carbon, irradiance and temperature. The integrated information reflected in the natural δ13C values of seagrasses can be used in support of the reconstruction of environmentally related growth dynamics on the scale of individual shoots and that of entire populations. In addition, 13C may be used experimentally as a tracer of carbon flow in short term carbon allocation and production studies.


Stable carbon isotopes · Seagrasses · Isotope signatures · Variability


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