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Keywords:

  • marking;
  • labelling;
  • enrichment;
  • natural abundance;
  • resource turnover;
  • 13-carbon;
  • 15-nitrogen;
  • 18-oxygen;
  • deuterium;
  • mass spectrometry

Abstract

This is an eclectic review and analysis of contemporary and promising stable isotope methodologies to study the biology and ecology of arthropods. It is augmented with literature from other disciplines, indicative of the potential for knowledge transfer. It is demonstrated that stable isotopes can be used to understand fundamental processes in the biology and ecology of arthropods, which range from nutrition and resource allocation to dispersal, food-web structure, predation, etc. It is concluded that falling costs and reduced complexity of isotope analysis, besides the emergence of new analytical methods, are likely to improve access to isotope technology for arthropod studies still further. Stable isotopes pose no environmental threat and do not change the chemistry or biology of the target organism or system. These therefore represent ideal tracers for field and ecophysiological studies, thereby avoiding reductionist experimentation and encouraging more holistic approaches. Considering (i) the ease with which insects and other arthropods can be marked, (ii) minimal impact of the label on their behaviour, physiology, and ecology, and (iii) environmental safety, we advocate more widespread application of stable isotope technology in arthropod studies and present a variety of potential uses.