Environmental Management

, Volume 20, Issue 2, pp 249–255 | Cite as

Carbon isotope ratios in logged and unlogged boreal forests: Examination of the potential for determining wildlife habitat use

  • Robert France


Due to assimilation of recycled CO2 from litter decomposition and photosynthetic changes in carbon fractionation at low light levels, the foliage at the base of a forest is often more depleted in13C compared to that exposed to the atmosphere in either the canopy or in open clearings. This is referred to as the canopy effect. African research has indicated that these habitat differences in foliar δ13C can be substantial enough to affect the carbon isotope ratios of resident fauna. Previous work documenting a 30-year chronology on moose teeth from Isle Royale National Park indicated a progressive depletion in13C and suggested that this could be due to forest regrowth following extensive burning. The present study examined the assumption implicit in this hypothesis that foliar δ13C varies between open and closed boreal forest sites. I found a marginal canopy effect of 2‰ δ13C difference between upper canopy and ground flora for a forest in northwestern Ontario and an average difference of 1.2‰ in under- and mid-story vegetation between closed forests and open clear-cuts. Because of these small differences, the utility of carbon isotope analysis in quantifying temporally integrated exploitation of deforested habitats will be low for northern boreal locations. In denser forests, such as those in the tropics or western North American where the canopy effect can be expected to be much greater, δ13C analysis may still offer some promise for determining selection by wildlife of disturbed habitats.

Key words

Foliar δ13Canopy effect Clearcutting Habitat use 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York Inc. 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert France
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyMcGill UniversityMontrealCanada

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