Stable isotope time-series in mammalian teeth: In situ δ18O from the innermost enamel layer

Scott A. Blumenthal, Thure E. Cerling, Kendra L. Chritz, Timothy G. Bromage, Reinhard Kozdon, John W. Valley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Stable carbon and oxygen isotope ratios in mammalian tooth enamel are commonly used to understand the diets and environments of modern and fossil animals. Isotope variation during the period of enamel formation can be recovered by intra-tooth microsampling along the direction of growth. However, conventional sampling of the enamel surface provides highly time-averaged records in part due to amelogenesis. We use backscattered electron imaging in the scanning electron microscope (BSE-SEM) to evaluate enamel mineralization in developing teeth from one rodent and two ungulates. Gray levels from BSE-SEM images suggest that the innermost enamel layer, <20μm from the enamel-dentine junction, is highly mineralized early in enamel maturation and therefore may record a less attenuated isotopic signal than other layers. We sampled the right maxillary incisor from a woodrat subjected to an experimentally induced water-switch during the period of tooth development, and demonstrate that secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS) can be used to obtain δ18O values with 4-5-μm spots from mammalian tooth enamel. We also demonstrate that SIMS can be used to discretely sample the innermost enamel layer, which is too narrow for conventional microdrilling or laser ablation. An abrupt δ18O switch of 16.0% was captured in breath CO2, a proxy for body water, while a laser ablation enamel surface intra-tooth profile of the left incisor captured a δ18O range of 12.1%. The innermost enamel profile captured a δ18O range of 15.7%, which approaches the full magnitude of δ18O variation in the input signal. This approach will likely be most beneficial in taxa such as large mammalian herbivores, whose teeth are characterized by less rapid mineralization and therefore greater attenuation of the enamel isotope signal.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)223-236
Number of pages14
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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