Amino acid isotope incorporation and enrichment factors in Pacific bluefin tuna, Thunnus orientalis

PLoS One. 2014 Jan 22;9(1):e85818. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0085818. eCollection 2014.


Compound specific isotopic analysis (CSIA) of amino acids has received increasing attention in ecological studies in recent years due to its ability to evaluate trophic positions and elucidate baseline nutrient sources. However, the incorporation rates of individual amino acids into protein and specific trophic discrimination factors (TDFs) are largely unknown, limiting the application of CSIA to trophic studies. We determined nitrogen turnover rates of individual amino acids from a long-term (up to 1054 days) laboratory experiment using captive Pacific bluefin tuna, Thunnus orientalis (PBFT), a large endothermic pelagic fish fed a controlled diet. Small PBFT (white muscle δ(15)N∼11.5‰) were collected in San Diego, CA and transported to the Tuna Research and Conservation Center (TRCC) where they were fed a controlled diet with high δ(15)N values relative to PBFT white muscle (diet δ(15)N∼13.9‰). Half-lives of trophic and source amino acids ranged from 28.6 to 305.4 days and 67.5 to 136.2 days, respectively. The TDF for the weighted mean values of amino acids was 3.0 ‰, ranging from 2.2 to 15.8 ‰ for individual combinations of 6 trophic and 5 source amino acids. Changes in the δ(15)N values of amino acids across trophic levels are the underlying drivers of the trophic (15)N enrichment. Nearly all amino acid δ(15)N values in this experiment changed exponentially and could be described by a single compartment model. Significant differences in the rate of (15)N incorporation were found for source and trophic amino acids both within and between these groups. Varying half-lives of individual amino acids can be applied to migratory organisms as isotopic clocks, determining the length of time an individual has spent in a new environment. These results greatly enhance the ability to interpret compound specific isotope analyses in trophic studies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Amino Acids / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Diet
  • Fish Proteins / metabolism*
  • Kinetics
  • Models, Biological
  • Muscle Fibers, Fast-Twitch / metabolism*
  • Nitrogen Isotopes / metabolism
  • Time Factors
  • Tuna / genetics
  • Tuna / metabolism*


  • Amino Acids
  • Fish Proteins
  • Nitrogen Isotopes

Grant support

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. OCE1041329 to Brian N. Popp and Jeffrey C. Drazen. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.