, Volume 157, Issue 1, pp 105-115
Date: 09 May 2008

Effects of sample preparation on stable isotope ratios of carbon and nitrogen in marine invertebrates: implications for food web studies using stable isotopes

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


Trophic ecology has benefitted from the use of stable isotopes for the last three decades. However, during the last 10 years, there has been a growing awareness of the isotopic biases associated with some pre-analytical procedures that can seriously hamper the interpretation of food webs. We have assessed the extent of such biases by: (1) reviewing the literature on the topic, and (2) compiling C and N isotopic values of marine invertebrates reported in the literature with the associated sample preparation protocols. The factors considered were: acid-washing, distilled water rinsing (DWR), sample type (whole individuals or pieces of soft tissues), lipid content, and gut contents. Two-level ANOVA revealed overall large and highly significant effects of acidification for both δ13C values (up to 0.9‰ decrease) and δ15 N values (up to 2.1‰ decrease in whole individual samples, and up to 1.1‰ increase in tissue samples). DWR showed a weak overall effect with δ13C increments of 0.6‰ (for the entire data set) or decrements of 0.7‰ in δ15 N values (for tissue samples). Gut contents showed no overall significant effect, whereas lipid extraction resulted in the greatest biases in both isotopic signatures (δ13C, up to −2.0‰ in whole individuals; δ15N, up to +4.3‰ in tissue samples). The study analyzed separately the effects of the various factors in different taxonomic groups and revealed a very high diversity in the extent and direction of the effects. Maxillopoda, Gastropoda, and Polychaeta were the classes that showed the largest isotopic shifts associated with sample preparation. Guidelines for the standardization of sample preparation protocols for isotopic analysis are proposed both for large and small marine invertebrates. Broadly, these guidelines recommend: (1) avoiding both acid washing and DWR, and (2) performing lipid extraction and gut evacuation in most cases.

Communicated by Ulrich Sommer.