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Stable isotopic evidence for fossil food webs in Eocene Lake Messel

Maia K. Schweizer, Andrew Steele, Jan K. W. Toporski and Marilyn L. Fogel
Stable isotopic evidence for fossil food webs in Eocene Lake Messel
Paleobiology (December 2007) 33 (4): 590-609


Carbon and nitrogen stable isotopic compositions of fossil materials from Lake Messel (47 Ma) in Germany are used to investigate Eocene ecosystem dynamics. Autolithified soft tissues of terrestrial and aquatic vertebrate organisms, as well as plant compression fossils, contain organic material (20-50 wt% C, 1-6 wt% N), which appears to retain precursor compositions. Stable isotopic compositions (delta (super 13) C and delta (super 15) N) of Messel fossils are similar to those reported for components in modern lacustrine ecosystems. These data show trophically sensible enrichments relative to food sources, reflect multiple feeding strategies for each organism (e.g., omnivory, planctivory, piscivory), and differentiate between benthic and pelagic organic carbon sources. These chemical data broadly confirm existing Messel food web models based on coprolite and gut content analyses. delta (super 13) C values for the lacustrine shale range from -30.3 to -26.3 per mil, pointing to mixed terrestrial and aquatic origins for primary producers in the food web. delta (super 13) C values for primary consumers such as insects overlap with those for primary producers but are comparatively enriched in (super 15) N. Secondary and higher consumers (fish, crocodiles, and frogs) are associated with even more positive delta (super 15) N values and show a more constrained range of delta (super 13) C values. Omnivory appears widespread in both low and high trophic level consumers. Hence, the stable isotopic compositions of Messel fossils are complex and overlap, and must be combined with paleontological investigations in order to be conclusive. This study represents the first comprehensive isotopic reconstruction, featuring tens of components, of an ecosystem of Eocene age. A thorough understanding of trophic structure in Eocene Lake Messel contributes to the global databank of ecological history.

ISSN: 0094-8373
EISSN: 1938-5331
Serial Title: Paleobiology
Serial Volume: 33
Serial Issue: 4
Title: Stable isotopic evidence for fossil food webs in Eocene Lake Messel
Affiliation: Carnegie Institution of Washington, Geophysical Laboratory, Washington, DC, United States
Pages: 590-609
Published: 200712
Text Language: English
Publisher: Paleontological Society, Lawrence, KS, United States
References: 171
Accession Number: 2007-128515
Categories: General paleontologyIsotope geochemistry
Document Type: Serial
Bibliographic Level: Analytic
Illustration Description: illus. incl. 3 tables
N49°55'60" - N49°55'60", E08°43'60" - E08°43'60"
Country of Publication: United States
Secondary Affiliation: GeoRef, Copyright 2017, American Geosciences Institute. Abstract, Copyright, The Paleontological Society. Reference includes data from GeoScienceWorld, Alexandria, VA, United States
Update Code: 200751
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