Variation in hydrogen isotope composition among saltmarsh plant organic compounds highlights biochemical mechanisms controlling biosynthetic fractionation

Yvette Eley, Joseph White, Lorna Dawson, Michael Hren, Nikolai Pedentchouk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
16 Downloads (Pure)


Hydrogen isotopes of plant‐derived biomarkers can vary by >100‰ at a single location. Isotope fractionation associated with the movement of water in plant leaves cannot account for this variability alone. Biochemical processes therefore must play a fundamental role in controlling hydrogen isotope fractionation during secondary compound biosynthesis. Different biosynthetic pathways utilize discrete hydrogen pools, and occur within distinct cell compartments. We analysed hydrogen isotope compositions of C16 and C18 fatty acids and phytol from 7 saltmarsh plants, and compared these data with: (i) leaf water and n‐alkane δ2H; (ii) leaf carbon and nitrogen contents; and (iv) nitrogen isotopes of bulk tissue, to evaluate the relationship between biochemical processes, cellular compartmentalization, and hydrogen isotope fractionation. Interspecies variation in chloroplastic fatty acids and phytol δ2H exceeds leaf water δ2H, indicating that different commitments of metabolites among species at branching points in chloroplast metabolic processes may be important determinants of lipid δ2H values. Dominant osmoregulatory strategies, in particular, show strong correlation with leaf wax n‐alkane δ2H. Species that preferentially produce nitrogenous compounds (dicots/shrubs) as protective solutes have 2H‐enriched n‐alkanes relative to species that produce mainly carbohydrates (monocots). n‐Alkane δ2H values, in combination with δ15N data and elemental (C, N) composition, together provide information about biochemical environmental adaptations exhibited by different higher plant species in response to environmental stresses. Thus, while spatial and temporal integration of biomarkers may produce an isotopic record of ecosystem function, biomarkers from individual plant or microbial remains may hold additional details into biologic function and adaptation to ancient environments.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2645-2660
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
Issue number9
Early online date1 Aug 2018
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2018


  • Leaf wax lipids
  • stable isotopes
  • organic geochemistry
  • osmolytes
  • stress

Cite this