Carbon and nitrogen isotopic variability in foxtail millet (Setaria italica) with watering regime

Emma Lightfoot, M. Cemre Ustunkaya, Natalia Przelomska, Tamsin c. O'Connell, Harriet V. Hunt, Martin K. Jones, Cameron A. Petrie

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Rationale: Carbonised plant remains are analysed for reconstruction of past climates and agricultural regimes. Several recent studies have used C4 plants to address related questions, and correlations between modern C4 plant δ13C values and rainfall have been found. The millets were important food crops in prehistoric Eurasia, yet little is known about causes of isotopic variation within millet species. Previous research has shown there to be significant isotopic variation between millet accessions. Here we compare isotope ratios from plants grown under different watering regimes. This allows for a consideration of whether or not Setaria italica is a good proxy for environmental reconstruction.

Methods: We compare stable isotope ratios of Setaria italica plants grown in a controlled environment chamber with different watering regimes. We compare the carbon isotope ratios of leaves and grains, and the nitrogen isotope ratios of grains, from 12 accessions of Setaria italica.

Results: We find significant isotopic variability between watering regimes. Carbon isotope ratios are positively correlated with water availability, and on average vary by 1.9‰ and 1.7‰ for leaves and grains, respectively. Grain nitrogen isotope ratios also vary with watering regime; however, the highest isotope ratios are found with the 130-mL watering regime.

Conclusions: The carbon isotope ratios of Setaria italica are strongly correlated with water availability. However, the correlation is the opposite to that seen in studies of C3 plants. The difference in isotopic ratio due to watering regime is comparable with that seen between different accessions; thus distinguishing between changing varieties of Setaria italica and changing climate is problematic. In terms of grain nitrogen isotope ratios, the highest δ15N values were not associated with the lowest watering regime. Again, δ15N variation is comparable with that which would be expected from an aridity effect or a manuring effect, and thus distinguishing between these factors is probably problematic.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere8615
Number of pages14
JournalRapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry
Issue number6
Early online date7 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - 30 Mar 2020

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