Articles | Volume 5, issue 5
18 Sep 2008
 | 18 Sep 2008

Paleovegetation reconstruction using δ13C of Soil Organic Matter

G. Wang, X. Feng, J. Han, L. Zhou, W. Tan, and F. Su

Abstract. The relative contributions of C3 and C4 plants to vegetation at a given locality may be estimated by means of δ13C of soil organic matter. This approach holds a great potential for paleoecological reconstruction using paleosols. However, two main uncertainties exist, which limits the accuracy of this application. One is δ13C-enrichment as the plant carbon becomes incorporated into soil organic matter. The other is due to environmental influences on δ13C of plants. Two types of data were collected and analyzed with an objective of narrowing the error of paleovegetation reconstruction. First, we investigated δ13C variations of 557 C3 and 136 C4 plants along a precipitation gradient in North China. A strong negative correlation is found between the δ13C value of C3 plants averaged for each site and the annual precipitation with a coefficient of −0.40‰/100mm, while no significant coefficients were found for C4 plants. Second, we measured δ13C of soil organic matters for 14 soil profiles at three sites. The isotopic difference between vegetation and soil organic matter are evaluated to be 1.8‰ for the surface soil and 2.8‰ for the soil at the bottom of soil profiles. We conducted a sample reconstruction of paleovegetation at the central Chinese Loess Plateau during the Holocene and the Last Glacial (LG), and conclude that, without corrections for δ13C-enrichment by decomposition, the C4 abundance would be overestimated. The importance and uncertainties of other corrections are also discussed.

Final-revised paper