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Seaweed‐eating sheep show that δ 34 S evidence for marine diets can be fully masked by sea spray effects

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posted on 2021-03-16, 14:22 authored by Eric J Guiry, Paul Szpak
RATIONALE: Stable sulfur isotope compositions (δ34 S values) are a useful marker of terrestrial (lower δ34 S) versus marine (higher δ34 S) diets. In coastal areas, 34 S-enriched sea spray can obscure these marine/terrestrial differences. We sought to establish whether δ34 S values of sea spray-affected terrestrial fauna can be distinguished from those of marine-feeding terrestrial fauna. METHODS: We measured bone and dentine collagen δ34 S values, as well as stable carbon (δ13 C) and nitrogen (δ15 N) isotope compositions via continuous flow-elemental analysis/isotope ratio mass spectrometry of 21 sheep (Ovis aries) raised on < 7 km2 island (North Ronaldsay, UK) that had widely divergent access to marine (seaweed) and heavily sea spray-affected terrestrial (grass) food sources. We also analyzed the bone collagen of marine and terrestrial fauna from this island. RESULTS: Sheep bone collagen showed well-defined trends with highly significant correlations between δ13 C and δ15 N values indicative of feeding along a continuum of fully terrestrial to fully marine diets, consistent with other modern baseline data from marine and terrestrial animals in the same area. In contrast, the δ34 S value was generally elevated for all sheep and was not significantly correlated with either δ13 C or δ15 N. CONCLUSIONS: Our findings demonstrate that δ34 S values are poorly suited to differentiate marine and terrestrial diets in terrestrial animals in areas with pronounced sea spray effects. Care must be taken to characterize the isotopic compositions of potential food items before the δ34 S value is used as a marker of the reliance on marine protein in modern and ancient contexts.

Funding

Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada

History

Citation

Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry, Volume 34, Issue 17, 15 September 2020, e8868

Author affiliation

School of Archaeology and Ancient History

Version

  • VoR (Version of Record)

Published in

Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry

Volume

34

Issue

17

Publisher

Wiley

issn

0951-4198

eissn

1097-0231

Acceptance date

2020-06-13

Copyright date

2020

Available date

2021-03-16

Spatial coverage

England

Language

en

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