Articles | Volume 2, issue 4
Original research article
 | Highlight paper
25 Oct 2016
Original research article | Highlight paper |  | 25 Oct 2016

Leaf waxes in litter and topsoils along a European transect

Imke K. Schäfer, Verena Lanny, Jörg Franke, Timothy I. Eglinton, Michael Zech, Barbora Vysloužilová, and Roland Zech

Abstract. Lipid biomarkers are increasingly used to reconstruct past environmental and climate conditions. Leaf-wax-derived long-chain n-alkanes and n-alkanoic acids may have great potential for reconstructing past changes in vegetation, but the factors that affect the leaf wax distribution in fresh plant material, as well as in soils and sediments, are not yet fully understood and need further research. We systematically investigated the influence of vegetation and soil depth on leaf waxes in litter and topsoils along a European transect. The deciduous forest sites are often dominated by the n-C27 alkane and n-C28 alkanoic acid. Conifers produce few n-alkanes but show high abundances of the C24 n-alkanoic acid. Grasslands are characterized by relatively high amounts of C31 and C33 n-alkanes and C32 and C34 n-alkanoic acids. Chain length ratios thus may allow for distinguishing between different vegetation types, but caution must be exercised given the large species-specific variability in chain length patterns. An updated endmember model with the new n-alkane ratio (n-C31 + n-C33) / (n-C27 + n-C31 + n-C33) is provided to illustrate, and tentatively account for, degradation effects on n-alkanes.

Short summary
For this study we systematically investigated the molecular pattern of leaf waxes in litter and topsoils along a European transect to assess their potential for palaeoenvironmental reconstruction. Our results show that leaf wax patterns depend on the type of vegetation. The vegetation signal is not only found in the litter; it can also be preserved to some degree in the topsoil.