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Oecologia

, Volume 191, Issue 4, pp 745–755 | Cite as

Does lipid-correction introduce biases into isotopic mixing models? Implications for diet reconstruction studies

  • Martin C. ArosteguiEmail author
  • Daniel E. Schindler
  • Gordon W. Holtgrieve
Concepts, Reviews and Syntheses

Abstract

Carbon isotopes are commonly used in trophic ecology to estimate consumer diet composition. This estimation is complicated by the fact that lipids exhibit a more depleted carbon signature (δ13C) than other macromolecules, and are often found at different concentrations among individual organisms. Some researchers argue that lipids bias diet reconstructions using stable isotopes and should be accounted for prior to analysis in food web mixing models, whereas others contend that removing lipids may result in erroneous interpretations of the trophic interactions under study. To highlight this disagreement on best practices for applying δ13C in food web studies, we sampled the recent literature to determine the frequency and method of lipid-correction. We then quantified the potential magnitude and source of bias in mixing model results from a theoretical example and case study of diet reconstruction. The literature was split nearly evenly as to whether lipid-correction was applied to δ13C data in mixing model estimates of diet composition. Comparative mixing model scenarios demonstrated that lipid-correction can substantially alter the estimated diet composition and interpretation of consumer foraging habits. Given the lack of consensus on whether or not to lipid-correct prey and/or consumers, and the associated variation in mixing model results, we call for the establishment of a unified framework that will guide diet reconstruction in stable isotope ecology. Uncertainty in the prevalence of direct routing versus de novo synthesis of lipids across ecosystems, taxa, and trophic levels must be resolved to better guide treatment of lipids in isotope studies using carbon.

Keywords

Carbon Diet Lipid Lipid-correction Mixing model Stable isotope 

Notes

Acknowledgements

Funding for this project was provided by the Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS) Foundation Seattle Chapter via the Barton family, Richard and Lois Worthington Endowment, H. Mason Keeler Endowment, Clarence H. Campbell Endowed Lauren Donaldson Scholarship in Ocean and Fishery Sciences, Richard T. Whiteleather Fisheries B.S. 1935 Endowed Scholarship, and Floyd E. Ellis Memorial Scholarship. We thank Thomas Quinn, Michael Brett, Joel Trexler, and three anonymous reviewers for critical feedback on the manuscript.

Author contribution statement

MCA, DES, and GWH designed the study. MCA conducted the literature review, mixing model comparisons and wrote the first draft, after which DES and GWH contributed to the editing and refinement of the manuscript.

Supplementary material

442_2019_4525_MOESM1_ESM.docx (85 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 84 kb)
442_2019_4525_MOESM2_ESM.docx (77 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (DOCX 77 kb)

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Aquatic and Fishery SciencesUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  2. 2.Applied Physics Laboratory, Air-Sea Interaction & Remote Sensing DepartmentUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA

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