Molecular and carbon isotopic composition of leaf wax in vegetation and aerosols in a northern prairie ecosystem. Academic Article uri icon


  • We measured the molecular and carbon isotopic composition of major leaf wax compound classes in northern mixed mesic prairie species (Agropyron smithii, Stipa viridula, Bouteloua gracilis, Tragopogon dubius) and in selected crops (Triticum aestivum, Brassica napus, Hordeum vulgare, Medicago sativa) of southern Alberta and also in aerosols collected 4 m above the prairie canopy. Our aims were to better constrain the wax biosynthetic carbon isotopic fractionation relative to the plant's carbon isotopic discrimination and to quantitatively assess the correspondence between wax composition in vegetation and in boundary layer aerosols. Wax molecular composition of the C(3)prairie species and bulked vegetation was characterized by high abundance of C(28) n-alkanol and C(31) n-alkane compounds whereas the C(4) species B. gracilis had several co-dominant n-alkanol and n-alkane compounds. Wax molecular composition of crop species differed significantly from that of prairie vegetation and was often dominated by a single compound. Results indicate that leaf wax isotopic composition is quantitatively related to the plant's carbon isotopic discrimination. Although species variations were evident, n-alcohol, n-acid and n-alkane wax compounds were on average depleted in (13)C by approximately 6.0+/-1 per thousand relative to total plant carbon. The magnitude of the depletion in wax delta(13)C was unaffected by environmental factors which altered photosynthetic carbon isotopic discrimination. No consistent difference in the magnitude of wax biosynthetic fractionation was observed between C(3) and C(4) species, indicating that photosynthetic pathway has little influence on the isotopic fractionation of wax during biosynthesis. The isotopic composition of ablated waxes in aerosols collected above the canopy was similar to that of the grassland vegetation but the molecular composition differed significantly and indicated that the source "footprint" of the ablated leaf wax particles we sampled in boundary layer air masses was of a regional or larger spatial scale.

publication date

  • March 2003