Abstract

The application of oxygen isotope ratios (δ18O) from freshwater bivalves as a proxy for river discharge conditions in the Rhine and Meuse rivers is investigated. We compared a dataset of water temperature and water δ18O values with a selection of recent shell δ18O records for two species of the genus Unio in order to establish: (1) whether differences between the rivers in water δ18O values, reflecting river discharge conditions, are recorded in unionid shells; and (2) to what extent ecological parameters influence the accuracy of bivalve shell δ18O values as proxies of seasonal, water oxygen isotope conditions in these rivers. The results show that shells from the two rivers differ significantly in δ18O values, reflecting different source waters for these two rivers. The seasonal shell δ18O records show truncated sinusoidal patterns with narrow peaks and wide troughs, caused by temperature fractionation and winter growth cessation. Interannual growth rate reconstructions show an ontogenetic growth rate decrease. Growth lines in the shell often, but not always, coincide with winter growth cessations in the δ18O record, suggesting that growth cessations in the shell δ18O records are a better age estimator than counting internal growth lines. Seasonal predicted and measured δ18O values correspond well, supporting the hypothesis that these unionids precipitate their shells in oxygen isotopic equilibrium. This means that (sub-) fossil unionids can be used to reconstruct spring-summer river discharge conditions, such as Meuse low-discharge events caused by droughts and Rhine meltwater-influx events caused by melting of snow in the Alps.

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