Wetland plant waxes from Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania

Clayton Magill, Amanda Tamalavage, Doris Barboni, Gail Ashley, Katherine Freeman

Research output: Contribution to conferencePoster


Olduvai Gorge, northern Tanzania, exposes a Plio-Pleistocene sedimentary record that includes lake and lake-margin sediments and fossil remains of ancient plants and early humans. There are rich paleontological and cultural records at Olduvai Gorge that include thousands of vertebrate fossils and stone tools. Previous studies of plant biomarkers in lake sediments from Olduvai Gorge reveal repeated, abrupt changes in landscape dominance by woodland or grassland vegetation during the early Pleistocene, about 1.8 million years ago. However, the reconstruction of wetland vegetation in the past is limited by a dearth of published lipid signatures for modern wetland species. Here, we present lipid and isotopic data for leaf tissues from eight modern plants (i.e., sedge and Typha species) living in wetlands near Olduvai Gorge. Trends in values for molecular and leaf δ13C and average chain length (ACL) of n-alkanes in plant tissues are similar to values for underlying soils. Compound-specific δ13C values for n-alkanes C25 to C33 range between -36.4 to -23.1‰ for C3 plants and -22.3 to -19.5‰ for C4 plants. Fractionation factors between leaf and lipids, ɛ29 and ɛ33, fall within the range reported in the literature, but they differ more widely within a single plant. For C3 plants, the average difference between ɛ29 and ɛ33 is 6.5 ‰, and the difference between ɛ29 and ɛ33 for C4 plants is less than 2‰. Both plant types show a parabolic relationship between chain length and δ13C values, in which C29 typically has the most depleted value, and typically shift by 3-5‰ between alkane homologs. This pattern has not been previously reported, and could be unique for sedge lipids. If so, these data help constrain the application of plant wax biomarkers from sedges for paleo-vegetation reconstruction in paleoclimate studies and at archaeological sites.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2013
EventAmerican Geophysical Union Fall Meeting 2013 - San Francisco, United States
Duration: 9 Dec 201313 Dec 2013


ConferenceAmerican Geophysical Union Fall Meeting 2013
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CitySan Francisco


  • Biogeosciences
  • Biosignatures
  • Organic geochemistry


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