Differentiating temperate tree species and their organs using lipid biomarkers in leaves, roots and soil

Kevin E. Mueller, Pratigya J. Polissar, Jacek Oleksyn, Katherine H. Freeman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


Although fatty acids and alcohols in plant polyesters can be useful indicators of organic matter provenance in soils and sediments, interpretation is limited by uncertainty in: (i) the distribution of lipids among plant species and their organs (e.g. leaves and roots) and (ii) the extent to which plant lipid composition is recorded in soils and sediments. In this study, we compare lipids in leaves, roots and soils from 11 temperate tree species. Base hydrolysis was used to release ester-bound lipids and solvent extraction was then used to recover both hydrolysable and " free" lipids. Leaf and root lipid composition varied substantially among the tree species and we highlight differences among evergreen conifers, deciduous broadleaved angiosperms and a deciduous conifer (Larix decidua). Some of the variation appears to be linked to the morphology and lifespan of leaves and roots. Soils preserved much of the variation in the leaf and root lipid composition of the overlying tree species. Yet, the concentration of some lipids in soil diverged from their concentration in tree leaves and roots, reflecting an undocumented input from understory plants and other plant organs (e.g. seeds) or variation in the extent of lipid preservation in soil. Finally, by comparing leaf and root lipid composition, our results help constrain the attribution of lipids to each of these plant organs. This allowed us to evaluate the utility of leaf-derived lipids as plant type biomarkers and to document a substantial contribution of root-derived lipids to soil beneath all 11 tree species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)130-141
Number of pages12
JournalOrganic Geochemistry
StatePublished - Nov 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geochemistry and Petrology


Dive into the research topics of 'Differentiating temperate tree species and their organs using lipid biomarkers in leaves, roots and soil'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this