, Volume 600, Issue 1, pp 121-130
Date: 06 Nov 2007

Evaluating the utility of stable isotope analyses of archived freshwater sample materials

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We evaluated the potential utility of stable isotope analysis of tissues commonly archived by aquatic biologists. Previous studies with chemically preserved samples have shown contradictory results, which present an obstacle for the use of archived sample materials. We tested the effects of ethanol and formalin preservation on zooplankton and of ethanol on benthic macroinvertebrate δ13C and δ15N values. We found that neither formalin nor ethanol had a significant effect on δ13C and δ15N values of preserved zooplankton. Nor did ethanol significantly affect δ13C or δ15N values of macroinvertebrates. However, ethanol preservation slightly, but significantly decreased C:N ratios of both zooplankton and macroinvertebrates, probably reflecting some extraction of lipids. Overall, the effects of preservatives on δ13C and δ15N values that we observed were minor. We also compared δ13C and δ15N values analysed from roach scales and perch operculum bones with those analysed from muscle tissue. Decalcification of scales and operculum bones only slightly improved our comparison to muscle tissue δ13C and δ15N values. Decalcified scales had slightly higher δ13C and lower δ15N values. Similarly, decalcified operculum bones showed slightly increased δ13C and decreased δ15N values to those for fish muscle. Our results confirm that scales and operculum bones can provide a suitable proxy for fish muscle in isotope studies with minor correction. We conclude that various archived sample materials can indeed be used with confidence for historical reconstructions of freshwater food webs by stable isotope analysis.

Handling editor: K. Martens