Articles | Volume 2, issue 4
SOIL, 2, 551–564, 2016
SOIL, 2, 551–564, 2016

Original research article 25 Oct 2016

Original research article | 25 Oct 2016

Leaf waxes in litter and topsoils along a European transect

Imke K. Schäfer1, Verena Lanny2, Jörg Franke1, Timothy I. Eglinton2, Michael Zech3,4, Barbora Vysloužilová5,6, and Roland Zech1 Imke K. Schäfer et al.
  • 1Institute of Geography and Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Bern, 3012 Bern, Switzerland
  • 2Department of Earth Science, ETH Zurich, 8092 Zurich, Switzerland
  • 3Landscape- & Geoecology, Faculty of Environmental Sciences, Technical University of Dresden, 01062 Dresden, Germany
  • 4Institute of Agronomy and Nutritional Sciences, Soil Biogeochemistry, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, 06120 Halle, Germany
  • 5Institute of Archaeology of Academy of Science of the Czech Republic, Letenská 4, 11801 Prague 1, Czech Republic
  • 6Laboratoire Image, Ville, Environnement, UMR7362, CNRS/Université de Strasbourg, 67083 Strasbourg CEDEX, France

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.