δ13C Measurements as Indicators of Carbon Flow in Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems

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Abstract

Stable isotope ratios provide clues about the origins and transformations of organic matter. A few key reactions control the isotopic composition of most organic matter. Isotopic variations introduced by these reactions are often passed on with little change so that isotopic measurements can indicate natural pathways and flows “downstream” from these key reactions. When chemical and metabolic processes scramble the information content of molecules, isotopic compositions are often preserved. This realization has prompted increasing use of stable isotope analyses as a tool for understanding complex ecological processes.