Isotopic variation within Tasmanian bare-nosed wombat tooth enamel: Implications for archaeological and palaeoecological research

Georgia Roberts, Jaqueline Towers, Michael Kevin Gagan, Richard Cosgrove, Collin I. Smith

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2 Citations (Scopus)


Archaeologists and palaeoecologists are increasingly turning to stable isotope analysis (δ13C, δ18O) of fossil bioapatite to examine interactions of human and animal populations. However, relatively few investigations have focussed on the identification of natural variation in comparable modern populations, particularly within the Australian context. In this paper, we present the first modern isotopic reference dataset for Tasmanian barenosed wombat teeth (Vombatus ursinus tasmaniensis). Samples for δ13Cbioapatite and δ18Obioapatite measurements were recovered sequentially at sub-monthly resolution from all tooth types. δ13Cbioapatite showed little variation within a seasonal sinusoidal pattern within the sample set (n = 24 wombats; 35 teeth) due to the homogeneous C3 distribution of plants in Tasmania. In contrast, δ18Obioapatite profiles varied seasonally, representing time periods of between 0.9 and 2.1 years in 95% of the sample. Significant differences between tooth types were found from intra-individual to inter-regional scales for both dental growth rates and isotopic values. The accuracy of season-of-death assessments differed across the island; those in eastern Tasmania were accurate in all instances whereas those in the west showed substantial inaccuracies. We suggest that this may be due to the elodont form of wombat dentition and the ecologically influenced seasonally varied diet in western Tasmania. As the rate of dental growth is positively correlated with the proportion of coarse vegetation within the diet, this seasonal variation is therefore likely to change how annual isotopic signals are incorporated into the enamel. These results highlight the need to understand the degree of species-specific isotopic variation at a range of scales before applying this technique to archaeological or palaeontological assemblages.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-115
Number of pages19
JournalPalaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Modern reference data
  • δ13C
  • δ18O
  • Marsupial
  • Australia

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