The use of stable isotopes in ecological studies requires that we know the magnitude of discrimination factors between consumer and element sources. The causes of variation in discrimination factors for carbon and nitrogen have been relatively well studied. In contrast, the discrimination factors for hydrogen have rarely been measured. We grew cabbage looper caterpillars (Trichoplusia ni) on cabbage (Brassica oleracea) plants irrigated with four treatments of deuterium-enriched water (δD = -131, -88, -48, and -2‰, respectively), allowing some of them to reach adulthood as moths. Tissue δD values of plants, caterpillars, and moths were linearly correlated with the isotopic composition of irrigation water. However, the slope of these relationships was less than 1, and hence, discrimination factors depended on the δD value of irrigation water. We hypothesize that this dependence is an artifact of growing plants in an environment with a common atmospheric δD value. Both caterpillars and moths were significantly enriched in deuterium relative to plants by ~45‰ and 23‰ respectively, but the moths had lower tissue to plant discrimination factors than did the caterpillars. If the trophic enrichment documented here is universal, δD values must be accounted for in geographic assignment studies. The isotopic value of carbon was transferred more or less faithfully across trophic levels, but δ15N values increased from plants to insects and we observed significant non-trophic 15N enrichment in the metamorphosis from larvae to adult.
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Effects of trophic level and metamorphosis on discrimination of hydrogen isotopes in a plant-herbivore system