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Food webs and stable isotopes

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Over thirty years ago it was discovered that there is a predictable shift in the bulk nitrogen and carbon isotope stable composition between a consumer’s tissues and that of its diet. This discovery paved the way for the general use of these intrinsic markers to trace trophic interactions, but relied on a set ...

Over thirty years ago it was discovered that there is a predictable shift in the bulk nitrogen and carbon isotope stable composition between a consumer’s tissues and that of its diet. This discovery paved the way for the general use of these intrinsic markers to trace trophic interactions, but relied on a set of complex, time-consuming techniques out of reach of most life scientists.
Since then, the development of automated, off-the-shelf analytical instruments have reduced costs, allowed larger projects, and have become available to a much wider scientific community, such that stable isotope analysis is a standard tool for ecological research. Innovative technologies such as these provide exciting opportunities for advancing ideas in ecology.
The use of stable isotope ratios as tracers within foodwebs has a number of advantages over conventional techniques such as stomach contents analyses. Much is often made of the distinction between such conventional techniques which are often representative of the most recent meal, and stable isotope analysis of tissues which integrate assimilated diet over a longer period; often the most productive investigations make use of both. Analysing different tissues, or incrementally sampling those tissues that are continuously synthesized, may give information on temporal changes in diet of that consumer. However stable isotope analysis is not a panacea, and stable isotope ecologists recognize that many of its limitations can be overcome by considering isotopic data in tandem with other conventional data


This Research Topic aims to bring together expertise from the diverse but converging disciplines of ecology, statistics and stable isotope geochemistry, and encourage submissions of all categories, from methodological papers to examples of the use of stable isotopes to elucidate food webs in all ecosystems.


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