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An assessment of plant species differences on cellulose oxygen isotopes from two Kenai Peninsula, Alaska peatlands: Implications for hydroclimatic reconstructions

March 5, 2019

Peat cores are valuable archives of past environmental change because they accumulate plant organic matter over millennia. While studies have primarily focused on physical, ecological, and some biogeochemical proxies, cores from peatlands have increasingly been used to interpret hydroclimatic change using stable isotope analyses of cellulose preserved in plant remains. Previous studies indicate that the stable oxygen isotope compositions (δ18O) preserved in alpha cellulose extracted from specific plant macrofossils reflect the δ18O values of past peatland water and thereby provide information on long-term changes in hydrology in response to climate. Oxygen isotope analyses of peat cellulose (δ18Ocellulose) have been successfully developed from peat cores that accumulate the same species for millennia. However, to fully exploit the potential of this proxy in species-diverse fens, studies are needed that account for the isotopic variations caused by changes in dominant species composition. This study assesses variation in δ18O values among peatland plant species and how they relate to environmental waters in two fens informally named Horse Trail and Goldfin, located on the leeward (dry) and windward (wet) side, respectively, of the climatic gradient across the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. Environmental water δ18O values at both fens reflect unmodified δ18O values of mean annual precipitation, although at Goldfin standing pools were slightly influenced by evaporation. Modern plant [mosses and Carex spp. (sedges)] δ18Ocellulose values indicate that all Carex spp. are higher (~2.5‰) than those of mosses, likely driven by their vascular structure and ecophysiological difference from non-vascular mosses. Moss δ18Ocellulose values within each peatland are similar among the species, and differences appear related to evaporation effects on environmental waters within hummocks and hollows. The plant taxa-environmental water δ18O differences are applied to the previously determined Horse Trail Fen untreated bulk δ18O record. Results include significant changes to inferred millennial-to-centennial scale hydroclimatic trends where dominant taxa shift from moss to Carex spp., indicating that modern calibration datasets are necessary for interpreting stable isotopes from fens, containing a mix of vascular and nonvascular plants. Accounting for isotopic offsets through macrofossil analysis and modern plant-water isotope measurements opens new opportunities for hydroclimatic reconstructions from fen peatlands.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2019
Title An assessment of plant species differences on cellulose oxygen isotopes from two Kenai Peninsula, Alaska peatlands: Implications for hydroclimatic reconstructions
DOI 10.3389/feart.2019.00025
Authors Miriam Jones, Lesleigh Anderson, Katherine Keller, Bailey Nash, Virginia Littell, Matthew J. Wooller, Chelsea Jolley
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Frontiers in Earth Science
Series Number
Index ID 70206406
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Eastern Geology and Paleoclimate Science Center