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The δ15N signature of the detrital food web tracks a landscape-scale soil phosphorus gradient in a Costa Rican lowland tropical rain forest

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 June 2012

Ching-Yu Huang*
Department of Biology, California State University Dominguez Hills, Carson, CA 90747USA
Katherine L. Tully
Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia, Clark Hall, PO Box 400123, Charlottesville, VA 22904, USA
Deborah A. Clark
Department of Biology, University of Missouri–St. Louis, One University Boulevard, St. Louis, Missouri 63121, USA
Steven F. Oberbauer
Department of Biological Sciences, Florida International University, Miami FL 33199, USA and Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, 11935 Old Cutler Road, Miami, FL 33156, USA
Terrence P. McGlynn
Department of Biology, California State University Dominguez Hills, Carson, CA 90747USA
1Corresponding author. Email:


In this study, we investigated whether landscape-scale variation of soil P accounts for 13C and 15N composition of detrital invertebrates in a lowland tropical rain forest in Costa Rica. The top 10-cm soil, leaf-litter samples and plant foliage were collected among 18 plots representing a three-fold soil P gradient during 2007–2009. Body tissue of litter invertebrates (extracted from leaf-litter samples) along with soil, leaf litter and green foliage were analysed for total C, total N, δ13C and δ15N values. Differences in δ13C and δ15N signatures across plots and relative trophic distances of detrital food webs (Δ δ15N), and their variation with soil P gradient were evaluated. We found soil P gradient had a significantly positive correlation with δ15N of Asterogyne martiana foliage, leaf litter, collembolans and oribatid mites. The δ15N of the collembolans and pseudoscorpions positively correlated to leaf-litter δ15N. Δ δ15N between the trophic levels remained consistent across the soil P gradient. Higher δ15N in the collembolans and oribatid mites might be derived from their consumption on 15N-enriched decayed debris or fungal hyphae growing on it. It suggests that fine-scale soil P variation can affect trophic dynamics of detrital arthropods via regulation of microbial community and nutrient dynamics.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2012

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