Stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes in kukui (Aleurites moluccanus) endocarp along rainfall and elevation gradients: Archaeological implications

PLoS One. 2018 Oct 16;13(10):e0204654. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0204654. eCollection 2018.


Stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes are often used to make inferences of past environments and social patterns. We analyze δ 13C and δ 15N values in contemporary kukui (Aleurites moluccanus) endocarp to examine the effects of site environment. Results from across environmental transects on Hawai'i Island show strong patterns for both stable isotopes. For δ 13C a robust linear relationship with elevation is exhibited, strengthened by the inclusion of rainfall. This relationship breaks down at a minimum threshold of annual rainfall, possible relating to physiological responses to drought. For δ 15N, the only significant relationship observed pertains to substrate age. The endocarp from kukui is one of the most readily identified plant remains in the Pacific archaeological records and is often targeted for radiocarbon dating. We discuss the potential implications of our results regarding ancient climate, inferred diets, and habitat composition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aleurites / chemistry*
  • Archaeology / methods
  • Carbon Isotopes / chemistry*
  • Climate
  • Droughts
  • Ecosystem
  • Nitrogen Isotopes / chemistry*


  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Nitrogen Isotopes

Grant support

The authors received no specific funding for this work.