Publication Details

Bramley-Alves, J., Wanek, W., French, K. & Robinson, S. A. (2015). Moss δ13C: an accurate proxy for past water environments in polar regions. Global Change Biology, 21 (6), 2454-2464.


Increased aridity is of global concern. Polar regions provide an opportunity to monitor changes in bioavailable water free of local anthropogenic influences. However, sophisticated proxy measures are needed. We explored the possibility of using stable carbon isotopes in segments of moss as a fine-scale proxy for past bioavailable water. Variation in δ13C with water availability was measured in three species across three peninsulas in the Windmill Islands, East Antarctica and verified using controlled chamber experiments. The δ13C from Antarctic mosses accurately recorded long-term variations in water availability in the field, regardless of location, but significant disparities in δ13C between species indicated some make more sensitive proxies. δ13CSUGAR derived from living tissues can change significantly within the span of an Antarctic season (5 weeks) in chambers, but under field conditions, slow growth means that this technique likely represents multiple seasons. δ13CCELLULOSE provides a precise and direct proxy for bioavailable water, allowing reconstructions for coastal Antarctica and potentially other cold regions over past centuries.

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