College of Arts and Sciences Poster Presentations


Stable Isotope Fractionation in Grasshopper Assemblages Along an Elevation Gradient

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Student Presentation

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Matthew J. Kohn, Cesar R. Nufio (University of Colorado-Boulder), and Samatha Evans


Insects comprise over three quarters of all animal species, yet studies of body water isotopic composition are limited to only the cockroach, the hoverfly, and chironomid flies. These studies suggest that oxygen and hydrogen isotopic compositions in body water are primarily controlled by dietary water sources, with modification from respiratory and metabolic processes. In particular, outward diffusion of isotopically depleted water vapor through insect spiracles at low humidity enriches residual body water in 18O and 2H (D). Stable isotope compositions (d18O and dD) also respond to gradients in elevation and humidity, but these influences remain poorly understood. In this study, we measured grasshopper body water and local vegetation isotopic compositions along an elevation gradient in Colorado to evaluate three hypotheses: 1) Insect body water isotopic composition is directly related to food source water composition 2) Water vapor transport alters body water isotopic compositions relative to original diet sources, and 3) Elevation gradients influence isotopic compositions in insect body water.

Thirty-five species of grasshopper were collected from 14 locations in Colorado grasslands, ranging in elevation from 450 to 800 meters (1500 to 2600 feet; n=131). Body water was distilled from previously frozen grasshopper specimens using a vacuum extraction line, furnaces (90 °C), and liquid nitrogen traps. Water samples were then analyzed for d18O and dD on an LGR Liquid Water Isotope Analyzer, housed in the Department of Geosciences, Boise State University.

Grasshopper body water isotopic compositions show wide variation, with values ranging between -76.64‰ to +42.82‰ in δD and -3.06‰ to +26.78‰ in δ18O. Precipitation δ18O values over the entire Earth excluding the poles vary by approximately 30‰, comparable to the total range measured in our single study area. Most grasshopper values deviate from the global meteoric water line relating d18O and dD in precipitation, consistent with evaporative enrichment in food (plants) due to plant transpiration. However, grasshopper body water from any given location is further enriched in 18O and D relative to food. Isotopic values decrease slightly with increasing elevation, but some specific grasshopper species appear more sensitive to elevation. Overall, evaporative enrichment of 18O and D in this relatively dry environment appear the strongest factors influencing grasshopper compositions.

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