Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Seasonal variation in kangaroo tooth enamel oxygen and carbon isotopes in southern Australia

  • Tom H. Brookman (a1) and Stanley H. Ambrose (a2)

Serial sampling of tooth enamel growth increments for carbon and oxygen isotopic analyses of Macropus (kangaroo) teeth was performed to assess the potential for reconstructing paleoseasonality. The carbon isotope composition of tooth enamel apatite carbonate reflects the proportional intake of C3 and C4 vegetation. The oxygen isotopic composition of enamel reflects that of ingested and metabolic water. Tooth enamel forms sequentially from the tip of the crown to the base, so dietary and environmental changes during the tooth's formation can be detected. δ13C and δ18O values were determined for a series of enamel samples drilled from the 3rd and 4th molars of kangaroos that were collected along a 900 km north–south transect in southern Australia. The serial sampling method did not yield pronounced seasonal isotopic variation patterns in Macropus enamel. The full extent of dietary isotopic variation may be obscured by attenuation of the isotopic signal during enamel mineralisation. Brachydont (low-crowned) Macropus teeth may be less sensitive to seasonal variation in isotopic composition due to time-averaging during mineralisation. However, geographic variations observed suggest that there may be potential for tracking latitudinal shifts in vegetation zones and seasonal environmental patterns in response to climate change.

Corresponding author
Corresponding author at: Department of Geological Sciences, University of Canterbury, Private Bag 4800, Christchurch 8140, New Zealand. Fax: + 64 33642769. Email Address:
Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

L.K. Ayliffe , and A.R. Chivas Oxygen isotope composition of the bone phosphate of Australian kangaroos: potential as a palaeoenvironmental recorder. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 54, (1990). 26032609.

P.T. Bailey , P.N. Martensz , and R. Barker The red kangaroo, Megalia rufa (Desmarest), in north-western New South Wales. CSIRO Wildlife Research 16, (1971). 2939.

M. Balasse Reconstructing dietary and environmental history from enamel isotopic analysis: time resolution of intra-tooth sequential sampling. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 12, (2002). 155165.

M. Balasse Potential biases in sampling design and interpretation of intra-tooth isotope analysis. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 13, (2003). 310.

M. Balasse , S.H. Ambrose , A.B. Smith , and T.D. Price The seasonal mobility model for prehistoric herders in the south-western Cape of South Africa assessed by isotopic analysis of sheep tooth enamel. Journal of Archaeological Science 29, (2002). 917932.

M. Balasse , A.B. Smith , S.H. Ambrose , and S.R. Leigh Determining sheep birth seasonality by analysis of tooth enamel oxygen isotope ratios: the Late Stone Age site of Kasteelberg (South Africa). Journal of Archaeological Science 29, (2003). 917932.

M. Balasse , A. Tresset , K. Dobney , and S.H. Ambrose The use of isotope ratios to test for seaweed eating in sheep. Journal of the Zoological Society of London 266, (2005). 283291.

D. Bryant , and P. Froelich A model of oxygen isotope fractionation in body water of large mammals. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 59, (1995). 45234537.

N. Buchmann , J.M. Guehl , T.S. Barigah , and J.R. Ehleringer Interseasonal comparison of CO2 concentrations, isotopic composition, and carbon dynamics in an Amazonian rainforest (French Guiana). Oecologia 110, (1997). 120131.

G. Caughley , B. Brown , P. Dostine , and D. Grice The grey kangaroo overlap zone. Australian Wildlife Research 11, (1984). 110.

T.E. Cerling , and J.M. Harris Carbon isotope fractionation between diet and bioapatite in ungulate mammals and implications for ecological and paleoecological studies. Oecologia 120, (1999). 347363.

T.E. Cerling , J.M. Harris , B.J. MacFadden , M.G. Leakey , J. Quade , V. Eisenmann , and J.R. Ehleringer Global vegetation change through the Miocene/Pliocene boundary. Nature 389, (1997). 153158.

T.E. Cerling , J.M. Harris , and B.H. Passey Diets of East African bovidae based on stable isotope analysis. Journal of Mammalogy 84, (2003). 456470.

M.T. Clementz , P.L. Koch , and C.A. Beck Diet induced differences in carbon isotope fractionation between sirenians and terrestrial ungulates. Marine Biology 151, (2007). 17731784.

D. Codron , J.A. Lee-Thorp , M. Sponheimer , D. de Ruiter , and J. Codron What insights can baboon feeding ecology provide for early hominin niche differentiation?. International Journal of Primatology 29, (2008). 757772.

S.L. Connin , J. Betancourt , and J. Quade Late Pleistocene C4 plant dominance and summer rainfall in the southwestern United States from isotopic study of herbivore teeth. Quaternary Research 50, (1998). 179193.

T.B. Coplen , C. Kendall , and J. Hopple Comparison of stable isotope reference samples. Nature 302, (1983). 236238.

H. Craig Isotopic variation in meteoric waters. Science 133, (1961). 17021703.

W. Dansgaard Stable isotopes in precipitation. Tellus 16, (1964). 436468.

M.J. DeNiro , and S. Epstein Influence of diet on the distribution of carbon isotopes in animals. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 42, (1978). 495506.

E.H.M. Ealey , P.J. Bentley , and A.R. Main Studies on water metabolism of the hill kangaroo, Macropus Robustus (Gould), in northwest Australia. Ecology 46, (1965). 473479.

G.D. Farquhar On the nature of carbon isotope discrimination in C4 species. Australian Journal of Plant Physiology 10, (1983). 205226.

G.D. Farquhar , J.R. Ehleringer , and K.T. Hubick Carbon isotope discrimination and photosynthesis. Annual Review of Plant Physiology 40, (1989). 503537.

J. Field , and S. Wroe Aridity, faunal adaptations and Australian Late Pleistocene extinctions. World Archaeology 44, (2012). 5674.

R.J. Francey , and G.D. Farquhar An explanation of 13C/12C variations in tree rings. Nature 297, (1982). 2831.

R.A. Fraser , R. Grün , K. Privat , and M.K. Gagan Stable-isotope microprofiling of wombat tooth enamel records seasonal changes in vegetation and environmental conditions in eastern Australia. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 269, (2008). 6677.

H.C. Fricke , W.C. Clyde , J.R. O'Neil , and P.D. Gingerich Evidence for rapid climate change in North America during the latest Paleocene thermal maximum: oxygen isotope compositions of biogenic phosphate from Bighorn Basin (Wyoming). Earth and Planetary Science Letters 160, (1998). 193208.

P.W. Hattersley The distribution of C3 and C4 grasses in Australia in relation to climate. Oecologia 57, (1983). 113128.

B.R. Helliker , and J.R. Ehleringer Differential 18O enrichment in C3 versus C4 grasses. Functional Plant Biology 29, (2002). 435442.

P. Higgins , and B.J. MacFadden “Amount Effect” recorded in oxygen isotopes of Late Glacial horse (Equus) and bison (Bison) teeth from the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts, southwestern United States. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 206, (2004). 337353.

K.A. Hoppe , S.M. Stover , J.R. Pascoe , and R. Amundson Tooth enamel biomineralization in extant horses: implications for isotopic microsampling. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 206, (2004). 355365.

B.J. Johnson , G.H. Miller , M.L. Fogel , J.W. Magee , M.K. Gagan , and A.R. Chivas 65, 000 years of vegetation change in central Australia and the Australian summer monsoon. Science 284, (1999). 11501152.

B.J. Johnson , G.H. Miller , J.W. Magee , M.K. Gagan , M.L. Fogel , and P.D. Quay Carbon isotope evidence for an abrupt reduction in grasses coincident with European settlement of Lake Eyre, South Australia. The Holocene 15, (2005). 888896.

M.J. Kohn Comment: tooth enamel mineralization in ungulates: Implications for recovering a primary isotopic time-series, by B.H. Passey and T.E. Cerling (2002). Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 68, (2004). 403405.

H.W. Krueger , and C.H. Sullivan Models for carbon isotope fractionation between diet and bone. J.R. Turnlund , and P.E. Johnson Stable Isotopes in Nutrition. American Chemical Society Symposium Series (1984). 205220.

N. Levin , T.E. Cerling , B.J. Passey , J.M. Harris , and J.R. Ehleringer A stable isotope aridity index for terrestrial environments. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 103, (2006). 1120111205.

J. Liu , G. Fu , X. Song , S.P. Charles , Y. Zhang , D. Han , and S. Wang Stable isotope compositions in Australian precipitation. Journal of Geophysical Research 115, (2010). D23307

A. Longinelli Oxygen isotopes in mammal bone phosphate: a new tool for paleohydrological and paleoclimatological research. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 48, (1984). 385390.

B.M. Marino , and M.B. McElroy Isotopic composition of atmospheric CO2 inferred from carbon in C4 plant cellulose. Nature 349, (1991). 127131.

B.P. Murphy , and D.M.J.S. Bowman Kangaroo metabolism does not cause the relationship between bone collagen δ15N and water availability. Functional Ecology 20, (2006). 10621069.

B.P. Murphy , D.M.J.S. Bowman , and M.K. Gagan The interactive effect of temperature and humidity on the oxygen isotope composition of kangaroos. Functional Ecology 21, (2007). 757766.

B.P. Murphy , D.M.J.S. Bowman , and M.K. Gagan Sources of carbon isotope variation in kangaroo bone collagen and tooth enamel. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 71, (2007). 38473858.

B.P. Murphy , G.J. Williamson , and D.J.S. Bowman Did central Australian megafaunal extinctions coincide with abrupt ecosystem collapse or gradual climate change?. Global Ecology and Biogeography 21, (2012). 142151.

S.V. Nelson Paleoseasonality inferred from equid teeth and intra-tooth isotopic variability. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 222, (2005). 122144.

M.H. O'Leary Carbon isotopes in photosynthesis. Bioscience 38, (1988). 328336.

B.H. Passey , and T.E. Cerling Tooth enamel mineralization in ungulates: implications for recovering a primary isotopic time-series. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 66, (2002). 32253234.

B.H. Passey , and T.E. Cerling Response to the comment by M.J. Kohn on “Tooth enamel mineralization in ungulates: Implications for recovering a primary isotopic time-series”, by B.H. Passey and T.E. Cerling (2002). Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 68, (2004). 407410.

B.H. Passey , and T.E. Cerling In situ stable isotope analysis (δ13C, δ18O) of very small teeth using laser ablation GC/IRMS. Chemical Geology 235, (2006). 238249.

F.D. Pate , and T.J. Anson Stable nitrogen isotope values in arid-land kangaroos correlated with mean annual rainfall: potential as a palaeoclimatic indicator. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 18, (2008). 317326.

F.D. Pate , and A.H. Noble Geographic distribution of C3 and C4 grasses recorded from stable carbon isotope values of bone collagen of South Australian herbivores. Australian Journal of Botany 48, (2000). 203207.

G.J. Prideaux , L.K. Ayliffe , L.R.G. DeSantis , B.W. Schubert , P.F. Murray , M.K. Gagan , and T.E. Cerling Extinction implications of a chenopod browse diet for a giant Pleistocene kangaroo. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 106, (2009). 1164611650.

R. Ramesh , S.K. Bhattacharya , and K. Gopalan Climatic correlations in the stable isotope records of silver fir (Abies pindow) trees from Kashmir, India. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 79, (1986). 6674.

A.L. Roberts , D.F. Pate , and R. Hunter Late Holocene climatic changes recorded in macropod bone collagen stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes at Fromm's Landing, South Australia. Australian Archaeology 49, (1999). 4849.

R.G. Roberts , T.F. Flannery , L.K. Ayliffe , H. Yoshida , J.M. Olley , J.M. Prideaux , G.M. Laslett , A. Baynes , M.A. Smith , R. Jones , and B.L. Smith New ages for the last Australian megafauna: continent-wide extinction about 46,000 years ago. Science 292, (2000). 18881892.

S. Rule , B.W. Brook , S.W. Haberle , C.S.M. Turney , P.A. Kershaw , and C.S. Johnson The aftermath of megafaunal extinction: ecosystem transformation in Pleistocene Australia. Science 335, (2012). 14831486.

M. Sponheimer , B.H. Passey , D.J. de Ruiter , D. Guatelli-Steinberg , T.E. Cerling , and J.A. Lee-Thorp Isotopic evidence for dietary variability in the early Hominin Paranthropus robustus . Science 314, (2006). 980982.

L.L. Tieszen Natural variations in the carbon isotope values of plants: implications for archaeology, ecology, and paleoecology. Journal of Archaeological Science 18, (1991). 227248.

N.J. van der Merwe , and E. Medina Photosynthesis and 13C/12C in Amazonian rain forests. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 53, (1989). 10911094.

Y. Wang , and T.E. Cerling A model of fossil tooth and bone diagenesis: implications for paleodiet reconstruction from stable isotopes. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 107, (1994). 281289.

Y. Wang , E. Kromhout , C. Zhang , Y. Xy , W. Parker , T. Deng , and Z. Qiu Stable isotopic variations in modern herbivore tooth enamel, plants and water on the Tibetan Plateau: implications for paleoclimate and paleoelevation reconstructions. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 260, (2008). 359374.

C. Warriner , and N. Tuross Alkaline cooking and stable isotope diet-tissue discrimination in swine: archaeological implications. Journal of Archaeological Science 36, (2009). 16901697.

G.R. Wilson Age structures of populations of kangaroos (Macropodidae) taken by professional shooters in New South Wales. Australian Wildlife Research 2, (1975). 19.

D. Yakir Variations in the natural abundance of oxygen-18 and deuterium in plant carbohydrates. Plant, Cell & Environment 15, (1992). 10051020.

A. Zazzo , M. Balasse , and W.P. Patterson High-resolution δ13C intratooth profiles in bovine enamel: implications for mineralization pattern and isotopic attenuation. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 69, (2005). 36313642.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Quaternary Research
  • ISSN: 0033-5894
  • EISSN: 1096-0287
  • URL: /core/journals/quaternary-research
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 8 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 25 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 28th June 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.