Isotopic compositions of lipid biomarker compounds in estuarine plants and surface sediments

Elizabeth A. Canuel, Katherine H. Freeman, Stuart G. Wakeham

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154 Scopus citations


We examined the isotopic compositions of fatty acids, sterols, and hydrocarbons isolated from three coastal macrophytes (Zostera marina, Spartina alterniflora, and Juncus roemerianus) in order to investigate the relative contribution of these vascular plants as sources of organic matter in coastal sediments such as Cape Lookout Bight, North Carolina. On average, lipid biomarker compounds extracted from the plants were depleted in 13C by 3-5%. relative to δ13C total organic carbon (TOC). However, individual compounds within each lipid class varied by up to 5.69%. Trends in the isotopic compositions of lipids were consistent with δ13C(TOC); compounds obtained from Z. marina were the most enriched in 13C and those from J. roemerianus were the most depleted. The range in isotopic abundances and molecular compositions of the sediments was greater than that obtained from the plants, indicating that additional, presently unidentified sources of organic matter contribute to the Cape Lookout Bight sediments. Similarity between the signatures for suspended particulate matter and the sediments indicates that much of the sedimentary organic matter is derived from algal and bacterial sources. Bacterial sources of organic matter are likely greater during summer/early fall, and incorporation of 13C-enriched bacterial biomass may contribute to observed seasonal shifts in δ13C(TOC) in the surficial sediments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1570-1583
Number of pages14
JournalLimnology and Oceanography
Issue number7
StatePublished - 1997

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science


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