Amino acid δ 13 C fingerprints of nearshore marine autotrophs are consistent across broad spatiotemporal scales: an intercontinental isotopic dataset and likely biochemical drivers

Emma A. Elliott Smith, Michael D. Fox, Marilyn L. Fogel, Seth D. Newsome

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Carbon isotope fingerprinting, or multivariate analysis using δ13C values of individual compounds, is a powerful tool in ecological studies, particularly measurements of essential amino acids (EAA δ13C). Despite the widespread application of this technique, there has been little methodological validation to determine (1) whether multivariate EAA δ13C signatures (fingerprints) of primary producer groups vary across space and time, and (2) what biochemical mechanisms drive these patterns. Here, we evaluate the spatiotemporal consistency in EAA δ13C fingerprints among nearshore primary producers: Chlorophyta (Ulva sp.), Ochrophyta (kelps), particulate organic matter (POM) and phytoplankton, and Rhodophyta. We analyzed 135 samples from 14 genera collected in Alaska, California, and Chile. The collections included historical museum samples (1896-1980 CE) of the giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera. We employed canonical analysis of principal coordinates and generalized linear models (GLMs) to respectively characterize isotopic fingerprints and evaluate the effect of taxonomy, local upwelling regimes, ecological setting, and time on individual EAA δ13C values and associated fingerprints. We also calculated amino acid discrimination values (Δ13C) to identify key biochemical pathways responsible for these patterns. We found remarkable consistency in EAA δ13C fingerprints of marine algae across space and through time. Kelps and rhodophytes exhibited statistically distinct multivariate isotopic patterns regardless of geographic location, species identity, or time (kelps). In contrast, isotopic fingerprints of POM/phytoplankton and Ulva overlapped substantially. GLMs indicated that producer family, presumably due to the presence/absence of carbon concentrating mechanisms, and site locality are important determinants of individual amino acid δ13C values. Taxonomy was also a key variable for EAA δ13C fingerprints. The calculated discrimination values suggest variation in (1) metabolism of pyruvate and oxaloacetate-derived amino acids, and (2) production of storage and structural carbohydrates, are responsible for taxonomic differences in isotopic fingerprints. We conclude EAA δ13C fingerprinting is a robust method for tracing the contribution of diverse primary producer taxa to coastal food webs. We show that this technique can be applied to modern and historical samples, as well as consumers collected across continental scales. The high fidelity of EAA δ13C multivariate patterns coupled with biochemical mechanisms provides a powerful framework for future studies of carbon flow across broad biogeographical and ecological contexts.
Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalFunctional Ecology
StatePublished - Feb 8 2022

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2022-02-11

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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