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Biogeosciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-2019-456
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-2019-456
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 03 Jan 2020

Submitted as: research article | 03 Jan 2020

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This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Biogeosciences (BG).

From leaf to soil: n-alkane signal preservation, despite degradation along an environmental gradient in the tropical Andes

Milan L. Teunissen van Manen1, Boris Jansen1, Francisco Cuesta2, Susana León-Yánez3, and William D. Gosling1 Milan L. Teunissen van Manen et al.
  • 1Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED), University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  • 2Grupo de Investigación en Biodiversidad, Medio Ambiente y Salud (BIOMAS), Universidad de Las Américas (UDLA), Quito, Ecuador
  • 3Escuela de las Ciencias Biológicas, Pontificia Universidad de Católica de Ecuador (PUCE), Quito, Ecuador

Abstract. Plant wax n-alkane biomarkers obtained from ancient soils and sediments have been used to reconstruct past environmental changes. However, the interpretation of these ancient n-alkane patterns relies primarily on our understanding of modern plant wax n-alkane patterns measured from leaves. Very little is known about how n-alkane patterns might be altered during the process of transfer from leaves into soil. Therefore our interpretations of the ancient n-alkane biomarker signal could be confounded by an unobserved bias caused by degradation processes. Here we present the n-alkane patterns extracted from leaves, necromass and soil samples to clarify whether the n-alkane pattern, the n-alkane signal, and the local environmental information reflected in the n-alkane signal degrade, as the plant source material degrades in the tropical Andes. We find that the n-alkane patterns do degrade, but that the n-alkane patterns and signal remain similar across sample types. We find that the n-alkane patterns primarily reflect changes in longer vs. shorter n-alkanes, captured by the average chain length (ACL) and the C31 / (C29 + C31) ratio (ratio), regardless of sample type. Additionally, soil sample n-alkanes secondarily reflect changes in carbon preference index (CPI) whereas leaf and necromass n-alkanes do not. We find that in all sample types the primary observed n-alkane signals correlate significantly with the environment, temperature in particular, but that soil n-alkane correlations are muted compared to leaf n-alkanes. The secondary n-alkane signal (CPI) in soils also correlates significantly with the environmental signal, temperature in particular. Our results are an important step towards better understanding the taphonomy of the n-alkane signal in the tropics, and suggest that environmental information is preserved in the n-alkane signal, despite the observed degradation.

Milan L. Teunissen van Manen et al.
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Milan L. Teunissen van Manen et al.
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From leaf to soil: n-alkane signal preservation, despite degradation along an environmental gradient in the tropical Andes. M. L. Teunissen van Manen https://doi.org/10.21942/uva.10299068

Milan L. Teunissen van Manen et al.
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Short summary
We measured plant wax in leaves and soils along an environmental gradient in the Ecuadorian Andes. These data show how the wax composition changes as the plant material degrades in different environments. Local temperature is reflected in the wax despite the level degradation. This study provides a modern calibration dataset to interpret changes in plant waxes preserved in ancient soils and lake sediments.
We measured plant wax in leaves and soils along an environmental gradient in the Ecuadorian...
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