Digesting the data - Effects of predator ingestion on the oxygen isotopic signature of micro-mammal teeth

Milo Barham, Alison J. Blyth, Melinda D. Wallwork, Michael M. Joachimski, Laure Martin, Noreen J. Evans, Belinda Laming, Bradley J. McDonald

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Biogenic minerals such as dental apatite have become commonly analysed archives preserving geochemical indicators of past environmental conditions and palaeoecologies. However, post-mortem, biogenic minerals are modified due to the alteration/replacement of labile components, and recent moves to utilise micro-mammal tooth δ18O signatures for refined Cenozoic terrestrial palaeoclimate reconstructions has lacked consideration of the chemical effects of predator digestion. Here, the physical and chemical condition of laboratory-raised mouse (Mus musculus) teeth have been investigated in conjunction with their bulk phosphate and tissue-specific δ18O values prior, and subsequent, to ingestion and excretion by various predator species (owls, mammals and a reptile). Substantial variability (up to 2‰) in the δ18O values of both undigested teeth and those ingested by specific predators suggests significant natural heterogeneity of individual prey δ18O. Statistically distinct, lower δ18O values (∼0.7‰) are apparent in teeth ingested by barn owls compared to undigested controls as a result of the chemically and enzymatically active digestive and waste-pellet environments. Overall, dentine tissues preserve lower δ18O values than enamel, while the greatest modification of oxygen isotope signals is exhibited in the basal enamel of ingested teeth as a result of its incompletely mineralised state. However, recognition of 18O-depletion in chemically purified phosphate analyses demonstrates that modification of original δ18O values is not restricted to labile oxygen-bearing carbonate and organic phases. The style and magnitude of digestive-alteration varies with predator species and no correlation was identified between specific physical or minor/trace-element (patterns or concentrations) modification of ingested teeth and disruption of their primary oxygen isotope values. Therefore, there is a current lack of any screening tool for oxygen isotope disruption as a result of predation. These results point to the need for careful application of the micro-mammal oxygen isotope palaeoenvironmental proxy in future studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-84
Number of pages14
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
Volume176
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 15 Nov 2017

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