International Journal of Primatology

, Volume 33, Issue 3, pp 673–701 | Cite as

Stable Isotope Techniques and Applications for Primatologists

  • Brooke E. Crowley


Stable isotope biogeochemistry is useful for quantifying the feeding ecology of modern and extinct primates. Over the past three decades, substantial advances have been made in our knowledge of the physiological causes of isotopic patterns as well as effective methodology to prepare samples for isotopic analysis. Despite these advances, the potential of stable isotope biogeochemistry has yet to be fully exploited by primate researchers, perhaps due to the prolific and somewhat daunting nature of the isotopic literature. I here aim to present a cogent overview of stable isotope applications to nonhuman primate feeding ecology. I review the factors that influence ecological patterns in carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen stable isotopes. I present methods for collecting and preparing samples of tooth enamel and bone mineral hydroxyapatite, bone collagen, fur and hair keratin, blood, feces, and urine for isotope analysis. I discuss both the existing and potential applications of these isotopic patterns to primate feeding ecology. Lastly, I point out some of the pitfalls to avoid when interpreting and comparing isotopic results.


δ13δ15δ18Hydroxyapatite Proteinaceous tissues Stable isotope Trophic discrimination 



I thank Gabe Bowen, Kena Fox-Dobbs, Sora Lee Kim, Carolyn Kurle, and Patrick Wheatley, for consultation on sample preparation techniques, and Lawrence Crowley, Sally Goddard, Matthew Weirauch and three anonymous reviewers for critical review of the manuscript. I also thank Erin Vogel and Janine Chalk for inviting me to contribute to this special issue.

Supplementary material

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Table S4 (DOCX 14.8 kb)


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Departments of Geology and AnthropologyUniversity of CincinnatiCincinnatiUSA

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