Samples of an angiosperm species, nine lichen species and a terrestrial alga, were collected from a variety of Antarctic terrestrial habitats, and were analysed for C and N stable isotope composition. Collections were made along natural gradients, the marine gradient, running from the sea coast inland and the moisture gradient, determined by melt water and precipitation runoff, and running towards the sea coast. Considerable variation in stable isotope ratios was found; d13C values ranged between -16 and -32‰ and d15N values between -23 and +23‰ The variation in stable carbon isotope ratios could be attributed in part to species specific differences, but differences in water availability also played a role, as was shown for the terrestrial alga Prasiola crispa and the lichen species Usnea antarctica. The differences in the isotope ratios of nitrogen could be retraced to the origin of nitrogen: marine or terrestrial. The nitrogen stable isotope ratios were influenced by both the marine gradient from the sea inland and the melt water and precipitation flow running in the opposite direction, towards the sea. This was shown for the lichen species Turgidosculum complicatulum and the angiosperm species Deschampsia antarctica. The variation in the C and N stable isotope ratios can be used to determine sources and pathways of N and changes in the water availability in Antarctic terrestrial ecosystems. Contrary to earlier reports the use of stable N isotope ratios is possible in this case because of the relative simplicity of the structure of the Antarctic terrestrial ecosystems. [KEYWORDS: d13C - d15N ; Deschampsia antarctica ; Lichen ; Melt water ; Prasiola crispa ; Precipitation]
Original languageEnglish
JournalPlant Ecology
Journal publication date2006

ID: 70362