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Calcium isotope fractionation in alpine plants

Abstract

In order to develop Ca isotopes as a tracer for biogeochemical Ca cycling in terrestrial environments and for Ca utilisation in plants, stable calcium isotope ratios were measured in various species of alpine plants, including woody species, grasses and herbs. Analysis of plant parts (root, stem, leaf and flower samples) provided information on Ca isotope fractionation within plants and seasonal sampling of leaves revealed temporal variation in leaf Ca isotopic composition. There was significant Ca isotope fractionation between soil and root tissue \(\Updelta^{44/42}\hbox{Ca}_{\rm root-soil} \approx -0.40\,\permille\) in all investigated species, whereas Ca isotope fractionation between roots and leaves was species dependent. Samples of leaf tissue collected throughout the growing season also highlighted species differences: Ca isotope ratios increased with leaf age in woody species but remained constant in herbs and grasses. The Ca isotope fractionation between roots and soils can be explained by a preferential binding of light Ca isotopes to root adsorption sites. The observed differences in whole plant Ca isotopic compositions both within and between species may be attributed to several potential factors including root cation exchange capacity, the presence of a woody stem, the presence of Ca oxalate, and the levels of mycorrhizal infection. Thus, the impact of plants on the Ca biogeochemical cycle in soils, and ultimately the Ca isotope signature of the weathering flux from terrestrial environments, will depend on the species present and the stage of vegetation succession.

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank Gregory de Souza for insightful discussions regarding the stable isotope fractionation of Sr and Ca by plants, Monika Welc for measuring the mycorrhizal infection of root samples and providing the ‘chronosequence’ and mycorrhizal sporocap samples and Hans Göransson for his help in understanding plant biology and in choosing suitable plant species to study. We thank associate editor Steven Perakis and two reviewers for their constructive reviews of this manuscript. In particular we are indebted to Thomas Bullen for his very detailed and thought-provoking reviews which considerably improved this manuscript. This work was associated with the BigLink project of the Competence Center Environment and Sustainability of the ETH Domain (CCES) and was funded by ETH Research Grant No. 04/06-3.

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Correspondence to R. S. Hindshaw.

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Hindshaw, R.S., Reynolds, B.C., Wiederhold, J.G. et al. Calcium isotope fractionation in alpine plants. Biogeochemistry 112, 373–388 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10533-012-9732-1

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Keywords

  • Calcium
  • Stable isotope fractionation
  • Glacier forefield
  • Alpine plants