Isotopic variability in the aragonite shells of freshwater gastropods living in springs with nearly constant temperature and isotopic composition

Timothy M. Shanahan, Jeffrey S. Pigati, David L. Dettman, Jay Quade

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


We conducted a year-long, intensive monitoring program of live aquatic gastropods (Helisoma duryi, Melanoides tuberculata, Physa virgata, Pyrgulopsis sp., and Tyronia sp.) and their host springs in the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge of southern Nevada. Our purpose was to constrain the degree of natural variation in the isotopic values of shell aragonite for gastropods living in near-constant conditions. Inter- and intraspecies variations, as well as within-shell variations, of δ18O and δ13C values for all taxa were larger than predicted based on variations in environmental conditions alone. This result suggests that different organisms growing in identical or nearly identical environmental conditions may not produce shells with equilibrium isotopic compositions and that these offsets from equilibrium may differ by small, but statistically significant amounts. For the gill-breathing, fully aquatic gastropods M. tuberculata, Pyrgulopsis sp., and Tyronia sp., the deviation of measured isotopic values compared to predicted values based on average environmental conditions were consistent with differences between taxa in the seasonal timing of shell growth. Measured values for the lung-breathing gastropods H. duryi and P. virgata were higher for δ18O and lower for δ13C than predicted at isotopic equilibrium, even when accounting for seasonality effects. We suggest that explaining the differences between the shell isotopic composition of lung- and gill-breathing snails requires a combination of both behavioral and physiologic factors. Our results illustrate the potential complexities of interpreting stable isotopic data from fossil gastropod shells even when environmental conditions are nearly constant, and place limitations on the paleoenvironmental deductions that can be made from the isotopic measurements on fossil gastropods.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3949-3966
Number of pages18
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Issue number16
StatePublished - Aug 15 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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