Articles | Volume 15, issue 12
Research article
29 Jun 2018
Research article |  | 29 Jun 2018

Leaf wax n-alkanes in modern plants and topsoils from eastern Georgia (Caucasus) – implications for reconstructing regional paleovegetation

Marcel Bliedtner, Imke K. Schäfer, Roland Zech, and Hans von Suchodoletz

Abstract. Long-chain n-alkanes originate from leaf waxes of higher terrestrial plants, they are relatively resistant against physical and chemical degradation and are preserved in sediment archives for at least millennial timescales. Since their homologue patterns discriminate between vegetation forms, they were increasingly used for paleovegetation reconstructions during the last years. However, before any robust interpretation of the long-chain n-alkane patterns in sediment archives, reference samples from modern vegetation and topsoil material should be investigated at a regional scale. Apart from some temperate and tropical regions, such systematic regional studies on modern plant and topsoil material are still largely lacking.

To test the potential of leaf wax-derived n-alkane patterns for paleoenvironmental studies in the semi-humid to semi-arid central southern Caucasus region, we investigated the influence of different vegetation forms on the leaf wax n-alkane signal in modern plants and topsoil material (0–5 cm) from eastern Georgia. We sampled (i) sites with grassland/herbs that included steppe, cultivated grassland and meadows, and (ii) sites that are dominated by deciduous hornbeam forests.

The results show that long-chain n-alkanes originate from leaf waxes of higher terrestrial plants and that their homologue pattern allow to discriminate between different vegetation forms: n-Alkanes derived from sites with grassland/herbs are mainly dominated by C31, while n-alkanes derived from sites with deciduous trees/shrubs show high abundances of C29. Thus, long-chain n-alkanes have a great potential when used for regional paleovegetation reconstructions. Moreover, the n-alkane distributions of the topsoils do not show correlations with mean annual temperatures and precipitation along the investigated transect. As degradation of organic matter can affect the leaf wax n-alkane distribution, we further present an updated end-member model that includes our results, accounts for degradation effects and enables semi-quantitative reconstructions of past vegetation changes in the central southern Caucasus region.

Short summary
In this study, we systematically analyze leaf wax derived n-alkane patterns in eastern Georgia to test their potential for paleoenvironmental reconstructions in the semi-humid to semi-arid central southern Caucasus region. We investigated the influence of vegetation types on the leaf wax signal in modern plants and topsoil material. Our results show distinct and systematic differences in the n-alkane patterns between vegetation types and prove their potential for vegetation reconstructions.
Final-revised paper