The effect of dietary nitrogen content on trophic level 15N enrichment

Thomas S. Adams, Robert W. Sterner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

353 Scopus citations


Given the great potential value of stable isotopes in a variety of scientific investigations, surprisingly little attention has been paid to the underlying physiological and biochemical mechanisms that account for trophic increases in δ15SN values. This has lead to a general call for controlled studies investigating the relationship between organismal diet and corresponding isotopic composition. We conducted a series of laboratory studies varying dietary nitrogen content and measuring corresponding variations in organismal δ15N values. Specifically, we investigated the relationship between the δ15N values of the anomopod crustacean, Daphnia magna, and the C:N ratio of its food, the green algae, Scenedesmus acutus. Daphnids were raised to a standard life stage on three types of S. acutus as food, which ranged in C: N (atomic) from 7.3 to 24.8. The average C: N of the daphnids was 6.0. 15N enrichment was found to be strongly linearly related to the C: N of the algae, ranging from nearly zero to approximately 6‰, which would normally be considered a span of almost two trophic levels. The δ15N values of the daphnids and the diet-tissue isotope fractionation factor, (Δ(dt) = D. magna δ15N - S. acutus δ15N), were inversely related to the nitrogen content of the algae (R2 = 0.82 and 0.99 in two separate runs). To our knowledge, this is the first controlled study of nitrogen balance and δ15N values in animals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)601-607
Number of pages7
JournalLimnology and Oceanography
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2000

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science


Dive into the research topics of 'The effect of dietary nitrogen content on trophic level 15N enrichment'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this