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PLoS One. 2013;8(1):e53763. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0053763. Epub 2013 Jan 16.

Carbon and nitrogen isotopic survey of northern peruvian plants: baselines for paleodietary and paleoecological studies.

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Department of Anthropology, The University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada.


The development of isotopic baselines for comparison with paleodietary data is crucial, but often overlooked. We review the factors affecting the carbon (δ(13)C) and nitrogen (δ(15)N) isotopic compositions of plants, with a special focus on the carbon and nitrogen isotopic compositions of twelve different species of cultivated plants (n = 91) and 139 wild plant species collected in northern Peru. The cultivated plants were collected from nineteen local markets. The mean δ(13)C value for maize (grain) was -11.8±0.4 ‰ (n = 27). Leguminous cultigens (beans, Andean lupin) were characterized by significantly lower δ(15)N values and significantly higher %N than non-leguminous cultigens. Wild plants from thirteen sites were collected in the Moche River Valley area between sea level and ∼4,000 meters above sea level (masl). These sites were associated with mean annual precipitation ranging from 0 to 710 mm. Plants growing at low altitude sites receiving low amounts of precipitation were characterized by higher δ(15)N values than plants growing at higher altitudes and receiving higher amounts of precipitation, although this trend dissipated when altitude was >2,000 masl and MAP was >400 mm. For C(3) plants, foliar δ(13)C was positively correlated with altitude and precipitation. This suggests that the influence of altitude may overshadow the influence of water availability on foliar δ(13)C values at this scale.

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