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Physiol Biochem Zool. 2010 Jul-Aug;83(4):608-17. doi: 10.1086/651585.

Tissue-carbon incorporation rates in lizards: implications for ecological studies using stable isotopes in terrestrial ectotherms.

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Biology Department, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131-0001, USA.


Carbon stable isotope (delta(13)C) analysis can be used to infer the origin and to estimate the flow of nutrient resources through animals and across ecological compartments. These applications require knowledge of the rates at which carbon is incorporated into animal tissues and diet-to-tissue discrimination factors (Delta(13)C). Studies of carbon dynamics in terrestrial vertebrates to date have focused almost solely on endothermic animals; ectotherms such as reptiles have received little attention. Here we determined carbon incorporation rates and Delta(13)C in tissues of prairie lizards (Sceloporus undulatus consobrinus) and collared lizards (Crotaphytus collaris). The smaller lizard, S. undulatus, had carbon retention times of 25 and 61 d in plasma and red blood cells (RBC), respectively, compared with 44 and 311 d for the larger C. collaris. Liver, muscle, and skin carbon retention times for S. undulatus were 21, 81, and 94 d. Growth contributed 9%-19% of the carbon incorporated into these tissues. This contribution is similar to endotherms measured at comparable developmental stages. Mean Delta(13)C for plasma (-0.2 per thousand +/- 0.4 per thousand Vienna Pee Dee Belemnite Standard) and RBCs (-1.3 per thousand +/- 0.8 per thousand) were similar to values reported for other vertebrates. Carbon incorporation rates for these ectotherms, however, are seven times slower than in similarly sized adult endotherms. Although a limited comparison with data for warm-water fishes suggests comparable incorporation rates between aquatic and terrestrial ectotherms, this study highlights the lack of experimental data for isotope dynamics in ectotherms across a range of temperatures, body sizes, and developmental stages.

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