Isotope measurements of single ostracod valves and gastropod shells for climate reconstruction: Evaluation of within-sample variability and determination of optimum sample size

Jaime Escobar, Jason H. Curtis, Mark Brenner, David A. Hodell, Jonathan A. Holmes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Sediment cores from Lakes Punta Laguna, Chichancanab, and Petén Itzá on the Yucatan Peninsula were used to (1) investigate "within-horizon" stable isotope variability (δ18O and δ13C) measured on multiple, single ostracod valves and gastropod shells, (2) determine the optimum number of individuals required to infer low-frequency climate changes, and (3) evaluate the potential for using intra-sample δ18O variability in ostracod and gastropod shells as a proxy measure for high-frequency climate variability. Calculated optimum sample numbers ("n") for δ18O and δ13C in the ostracod Cytheridella ilosvayi and the gastropod Pyrgophorus coronatus vary appreciably throughout the cores in all three lakes. Variability and optimum "n" values were, in most cases, larger for C. ilosvayi than for P. coronatus for δ18O measurements, whereas there was no significant difference for δ13C measurements. This finding may be explained by differences in the ecology and life history of the two taxa as well as contrasting modes of calcification. Individual δ18O measurements on C. ilosvayi in sediments from Lake Punta Laguna show that samples from core depths that have high mean δ18O values, indicative of low effective moisture, display lower variability, whereas samples with low mean δ18O values, reflecting times of higher effective moisture, display higher variability. Relatively dry periods were thus consistently dry, whereas relatively wet periods had both wet and dry years. This interpretation of data from the cores applies to two important periods of the late Holocene, the Maya Terminal Classic period and the Little Ice Age. δ18O variability during the ancient Maya Terminal Classic Period (ca. 910-990 AD) indicates not only the driest mean conditions in the last 3,000 years, but consistently dry climate. Variability of δ13C measurements in single stratigraphic layers displayed no relationship with climate conditions inferred from δ18O measurements.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)921-938
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Paleolimnology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2010

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments Coring on Lakes Punta Laguna and Chichancanab was funded by NOAA Grant NA36GP0304. Coring at Lake Petén Itzá was supported by NSF grant EAR-9709314 and a grant from the National Geographic Society. Stable isotope analyses were funded by the University of Florida (UF) Stable Isotope Mass Spectometry Laboratory, the UF School of Natural Resources and Environment, and the UF Land Use and Environmental Change Institute (LUECI). Final revisions to the manuscript were done at the Center for Tropical Paleoecology and Archaeology (CTPA) at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI). We thank two anonymous reviewers and Associate Editor Piero Guilizzoni for helpful comments on the manuscript.

Copyright 2010 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Ancient Maya
  • Climate change
  • Gastropods
  • Optimum sample size
  • Ostracods
  • Stable isotopes

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