Nitrogen and carbon isotopic systematics of the Florida reef tract

K. Lamb, P. K. Swart, M. A. Altabet

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


The nitrogen isotopic composition of a variety of organisms in coral reefs has been used extensively, not only to study nitrogen dynamics, but also as a tracer for the input of anthropogenic nitrogen. However, the interplay between isotopic fractionation associated with the internal nitrogen cycling and variations in the absolute values supplied by external source signatures is poorly understood. Here we report the δ 15N and δ 13C of algae, sponges, and fishes, the δ 15N and δ 18O of dissolved NO 3 -, and the δ 15N of dissolved organic nitrogen in samples collected from the Florida reef tract over a 2.5-yr period (2003-2005). Our data are synthesized with results from previous studies of the δ 15N of particulate organic material and coral tissue and zooxanthellae from the same area to provide a more detailed understanding of factors controlling coral reef δ 15N and variation among biogenic components. These data show that during the study period there were (1) no clear spatial patterns in the δ 15N of biogenic components related to proximity to the Florida Reef tract, and (2) no temporal patterns related to the wet or dry seasons. The range of δ 15N and δ 13C in the particulate organic material could be best explained as a mixture of material derived from seagrass, algae, mangroves, and fishes. The δ 15N and δ 18O of NO 3 - support a model in which variations in nitrogen isotopic composition are derived mainly from the isotopic effects associated with the nitrification of NH 4 + to NO 3 - and subsequent assimilation by primary producers rather than through the input of isotopically distinct NO 3 - from external sources.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)119-146
Number of pages28
JournalBulletin of Marine Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Nitrogen and carbon isotopic systematics of the Florida reef tract'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this