Sampling Plants and Malacofauna in 87Sr/86Sr Bioavailability Studies: implications for isoscape mapping and reconstructing of past mobility patterns

Kate Britton* (Corresponding Author), Mael Le Corre, Malte Willmes, Ian Moffat, Rainer Grün, Marcello A. Mannino, Stephen Woodward, Klervia Jaouen

*Corresponding author for this work

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Establishing strontium isotope (87Sr/86Sr) geographical variability is a key component of any study that seeks to utilize strontium isotopes as tracers of provenance or mobility. Although lithological maps can provide a guideline, estimations of bioavailable 87Sr/86Sr are often necessary, both in qualitative estimates of local strontium isotope ‘catchments’ and for informing/refining isoscape models. Local soils, plants and/or animal remains are commonly included in bioavailability studies, although consensus on what (and how extensively) to sample is lacking. In this study, 96 biological samples (plants and snails) were collected at 17 locations spanning 6 lithological units, within a region of south-west France and area with a high concentration of Palaeolithic archaeological sites. Sampling sites aligned with those from a previous study on soil bioavailable strontium, and comparison with these values, and the influence of environmental and anthropogenic variables, was explored. Data confirm a broad correspondence of plant and snail 87Sr/86Sr values with lithological unit/soil values, although the correlation between expected 87Sr/86Sr values from lithology and bioavailable 87Sr/86Sr ratios from biological samples was higher for plants than for snails. Grass, shrub and tree 87Sr/86Sr values were similar but grasses had a stronger relationship with topsoil values than trees, reflecting differences in root architecture. Variability in 87Sr/86Sr ratios from all plant samples was lower for sites located on homogeneous geological substrates than for those on heterogeneous substrates, such as granite. Among environmental and anthropogenic variables, only an effect of proximity to water was detected, with increased 87Sr/86Sr values in plants from sites close to rivers originating from radiogenic bedrock. The results highlight the importance of analysing biological samples to complement, inform and refine strontium isoscape models. The sampling of plants rather than snails is recommended, including plants of varying root depth, and (if sample size is a limitation) to collect a greater number of samples from areas with heterogeneous geological substrates to improve the characterizations of those regions. Finally, we call for new experimental studies on the mineralized tissues of grazers, browsers, frugivores and/or tree leaf feeders to explore the influence of 87Sr/86Sr variability with soil profile/root architecture on 87Sr/86Sr values of locally-feeding fauna.

Original languageEnglish
Article number579473
Number of pages16
JournalFrontiers in Ecology and Evolution
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

We thank Annabell Reiner and Sven Steinbrenner (MPI-EVA) for technical and practical support with preparation and analysis of samples. We thank the La Ferrassie Team for support during field sampling and project development, especially Harold Dibble, Shannon McPherron (MPI-EVA), Teresa Steele (UC Davies), Vera Aldeias (MPI-EVA, University of Algarve), Paul Goldberg (University of Wollongong, University Tübingen), Dennis Sandgathe (Simon Fraser University, University of Pennsylvania), Alain Turq (Musée national de Préhistoire, CNRS), and Jean-Jacques Hublin (MPI-EVA), as well as Mike Richards (SFU). Special thanks to Daphne Katranides and Aaron Katranides. We also thank the editor (TP) and two reviewers whose constructive comments greatly improved this manuscript.
This research was funded by the Max Planck Society and a Leverhulme Trust grant to KB (RPG-2017-410), with additional support from Australian Research Council Discovery grants DP0664144 and DP110101417 to RG. KJ thanks the ERC ARCHEIS 803676, and IM thanks Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Award (DE160100703), for salary support during production of this manuscript.


  • stronium
  • bioavailability
  • isoscape
  • provenance
  • mobility
  • snails
  • plants
  • archaeology
  • strontium


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