Some conifer clades contribute substantial amounts of leaf waxes to sedimentary archives
Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Leaf waxes (i.e. n-alkanes, n-alkanoic acids) and their carbon isotopes (δ13C) are commonly used to track past changes in the carbon cycle or plant ecophysiology. Previous studies indicated that conifer n-alkane concentrations are lower than in angiosperms and that 13C fractionation during n-alkane synthesis (εlipid) is smaller than in angiosperms. These prior studies, however, sampled a limited phylogenetic and geographic subset of conifers, leaving out many important subtropical and Southern Hemisphere groups that were once widespread and common components of fossil assemblages. To expand on previous work, we collected 44 conifer species from the University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley, capturing all extant conifer families and most extant genera. By collecting all specimens at a common site we attempted to minimize the confounding effects of climate, allowing phylogenetic patterns in the δ13C of leaf waxes to be expressed more strongly. We find that Pinaceae, including many North American species used in previous studies, have very low or no n-alkanes. However, other conifer groups have significant concentrations of n-alkanes, especially the Araucariaceae (Norfolk Island pines), Podocarpaceae (common in the Southern Hemisphere), and many species of Cupressaceae (junipers and relatives). Within the Cupressaceae, we find total n-alkane concentrations are high in subfamilies Cupressoideae and Callitroideae, but significantly lower in the early diverging taxodioid lineages (including bald cypress and redwood). Individual n-alkane chain lengths have a weak phylogenetic signal, except for n-C29 alkane, but when combined using average chain length (ACL), a strong phylogenetic signal emerges. The strong phylogenetic signal in ACL reinforces that it is strongly influenced by factors other than climate. An analysis of εlipid indicates a strong phylogenetic signal in which the smallest biosynthetic fractionation occurs in Pinaceae and the largest in Taxaceae (yews and relatives). We are currently exploring potential mechanisms to explain the εlipid patterns. These results have important implications for interpreting n-alkane δ13C values in sedimentary archives, especially outside of North America.