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Sulfur isotopes have received little attention in ecology studies because plant and animal materials typically have low sulfur concentrations (< 1 wt.%) necessitating labor-intensive chemical extraction prior to analysis. To address the potential of direct combustion of organic material in an elemental analyzer coupled with a mass spectrometer, we compared results obtained by direct combustion to results obtained by sulfur extraction with Eschka's mixture. Direct combustion of peat and animal tissue gave reproducibility of better than 0.5??? and on average, values are 0.8??? higher than values obtained by Eschka extraction. Successful direct combustion of organic material appears to be a function of sample matrix and sulfur concentration. Initial results indicate that direct combustion provides fast, reliable results with minimal preparation. Pilot studies underway include defining bear diets and examining fluctuations between freshwater and brackish water in coastal environments.
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On-line sulfur isotope analysis of organic material by direct combustion: Preliminary results and potential applications