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Disentangling temperature effects on leaf wax n-alkane traits and carbon isotopic composition from phylogeny and precipitation

Wang, Jia, Xu, Yunping, Zhou, Liping, Shi, Minrui, Axia, Ergu, Jia, Yufu, Chen, Zixun, Li, Jiazhu, Wang, Guoan
Organic geochemistry 2018 v.126 pp. 13-22
Artemisia, alkanes, biomarkers, biosynthesis, carbon, climatic factors, leaves, paleoecology, phylogeny, plants (botany), stable isotopes, summer, temperature, tissues, China
Leaf wax n-alkanes are terrestrial plant biomarkers that have characteristics that are widely employed as proxies for climatic conditions. Understanding the relationship between different environmental factors to the amounts and types of leaf wax n-alkanes in modern plants is crucial for the application of these proxies to paleoenvironmental reconstructions. However, the effects of climate conditions on plant wax characteristics remain complicated due to the interactions among temperature, precipitation and phylogeny. To evaluate the effect of temperature with minimized interfering factors, we collected 106 Artemisia plants across a 15 °C mean annual temperature gradient along the 400 mm isohyet in China. Both total n-alkane concentration (∑alk) and carbon preference index (CPI) varied greatly but did not correlate with temperature. Average chain length (ACL) increased with temperature, especially summer temperature (TJJA, June–August), indicating that ACL could be used as proxy for temperature. The stable carbon isotope compositions of n-C27, n-C29 and n-C31 were very similar in each plant (−38.2‰ to −30.0‰, −39.0‰ to −30.2‰, −38.7‰ to −30.5‰, respectively), which reflects a similar biosynthetic process for all three n-alkane homologues of Artemisia. There was a positive relationship between δ13C of bulk leaf tissues (δ13Cbulk) and of n-alkanes (δ13Calk), and the average offset of δ13C29 relative to δ13Cbulk (εC29/bulk) was −7.1‰. Increasing trends in both δ13Cbulk and δ13C29 were found with temperature. However, correlation of δ13Cbulkwith temperature (R2 = 18%) was much weaker than that of δ13C29 with temperature (R2 = 60%). Therefore, δ13C29 appears to be a better proxy of paleotemperature than δ13Cbulk.