, Volume 161, Issue 2, pp 313–324 | Cite as

The influence of environmental water on the hydrogen stable isotope ratio in aquatic consumers

  • Christopher T. Solomon
  • Jonathan J. Cole
  • Richard R. Doucett
  • Michael L. Pace
  • Nicholas D. Preston
  • Laura E. Smith
  • Brian C. Weidel
Ecosystem Ecology - Original Paper


Aquatic food webs are subsidized by allochthonous resources but the utilization of these resources by consumers can be difficult to quantify. Stable isotope ratios of hydrogen (deuterium:hydrogen; δD) potentially distinguish allochthonous inputs because δD differs between terrestrial and aquatic primary producers. However, application of this tracer is limited by uncertainties regarding the trophic fractionation of δD and the contributions of H from environmental water (often called “dietary water”) to consumer tissue H. We addressed these uncertainties using laboratory experiments, field observations, modeling, and a literature synthesis. Laboratory experiments that manipulated the δD of water and food for insects, cladoceran zooplankton, and fishes provided strong evidence that trophic fractionation of δD was negligible. The proportion of tissue H derived from environmental water was substantial yet variable among studies; estimates of this proportion, inclusive of lab, field, and literature data, ranged from 0 to 0.39 (mean 0.17 ± 0.12 SD). There is a clear need for additional studies of environmental water. Accounting for environmental water in mixing models changes estimates of resource use, although simulations suggest that uncertainty about the environmental water contribution does not substantially increase the uncertainty in estimates of resource use. As long as this uncertainty is accounted for, δD may be a powerful tool for estimating resource use in food webs.


Food web Deuterium Fish Zooplankton Insect 



S. Paskewitz, S. Dodson, and K. Forshay provided advice and assistance for maintaining lab cultures of mosquitoes, zooplankton, and phytoplankton, and N. Bankston helped maintain the phytoplankton cultures as well as the zooplankton cultures and experiment. Samples for the fish study were provided by D. Josephson and C. Kraft (Little Moose Hatchery, Old Forge, New York), A. Smith and K. Staigmiller (Washoe Park Trout Hatchery, Anaconda, Montana), and B. Couch (Buford Trout Hatchery, Cumming, Georgia). Unpublished data used to calculate ω for insects from Californian streams were supplied by J. Finlay. S. Carpenter suggested the equation for compounding of environmental water, and, along with J. Coloso, J. Kitchell, and M. J. Vander Zanden, offered comments that substantially improved this research. Comments from J. Gaeta improved the manuscript. Funding was provided by an NSF-DDIG award (DEB-0708666) to C. T. S. and M. J. Vander Zanden, and by a collaborative NSF award (DEB-0414258) to S. Carpenter, J. J. C., M. L. P., J. Kitchell, and J. Hodgson. The experiments described here comply with the current laws of the United States of America.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christopher T. Solomon
    • 1
  • Jonathan J. Cole
    • 2
  • Richard R. Doucett
    • 3
  • Michael L. Pace
    • 4
  • Nicholas D. Preston
    • 1
  • Laura E. Smith
    • 1
  • Brian C. Weidel
    • 1
  1. 1.Center for LimnologyUniversity of WisconsinMadisonUSA
  2. 2.Cary Institute of Ecosystem StudiesMillbrookUSA
  3. 3.Colorado Plateau Stable Isotope LaboratoryNorthern Arizona UniversityFlagstaffUSA
  4. 4.Department of Environmental SciencesUniversity of VirginiaCharlottesvilleUSA

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