Exploring cycad foliage as an archive of the isotopic composition of atmospheric nitrogen
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Molecular nitrogen (N2) constitutes the majority of Earth's modern atmosphere, contributing ~0.79 bar of partial pressure (pN2). However, fluctuations in pN2 may have occurred on 107–109 year timescales in Earth's past, perhaps altering the isotopic composition of atmospheric nitrogen. Here, we explore an archive that may record the isotopic composition of atmospheric N2 in deep time: the foliage of cycads. Cycads are ancient gymnosperms that host symbiotic N2‐fixing cyanobacteria in modified root structures known as coralloid roots. All extant species of cycads are known to host symbionts, suggesting that this N2‐fixing capacity is perhaps ancestral, reaching back to the early history of cycads in the late Paleozoic. Therefore, if the process of microbial N2 fixation records the δ15N value of atmospheric N2 in cycad foliage, the fossil record of cycads may provide an archive of atmospheric δ15N values. To explore this potential proxy, we conducted a survey of wild cycads growing in a range of modern environments to determine whether cycad foliage reliably records the isotopic composition of atmospheric N2. We find that neither biological nor environmental factors significantly influence the δ15N values of cycad foliage, suggesting that they provide a reasonably robust record of the δ15N of atmospheric N2. Application of this proxy to the record of carbonaceous cycad fossils may not only help to constrain changes in atmospheric nitrogen isotope ratios since the late Paleozoic, but also could shed light on the antiquity of the N2‐fixing symbiosis between cycads and cyanobacteria.
Kipp , M A , Stüeken , E E , Gehringer , M M , Sterelny , K , Scott , J K , Forster , P I , Strömberg , C A E & Buick , R 2019 , ' Exploring cycad foliage as an archive of the isotopic composition of atmospheric nitrogen ' , Geobiology , vol. Early View . https://doi.org/10.1111/gbi.12374
Copyright © 2019 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. This work has been made available online in accordance with publisher policies or with permission. Permission for further reuse of this content should be sought from the publisher or the rights holder. This is the author created accepted manuscript following peer review and may differ slightly from the final published version. The final published version of this work is available at https://doi.org/10.1111/gbi.12374
DescriptionFunding for this work was provided by a University of Washington Royalty Research Fund Grant (R.B.), National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship DGE‐1256082 (M.A.K.), and German Research Foundation (DFG) Fellowship GE2558/3‐1 (M.M.G). Cyanobiont collection was funded by grant no. 265‐605 of the Australian Biodiversity and Resources Programme (M.M.G).
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