The prospects of poop: a review of past achievements and future possibilities in faecal isotope analysis

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What can the stable isotope values of human and animal faeces tell us? This often under-appreciated waste product is gaining recognition across a variety of disciplines. Faecal isotopes provide a means of monitoring diet, resource partitioning, landscape use, tracking nutrient inputs and cycling, and reconstructing past climate and environment. Here, we review what faeces are composed of, their temporal resolution, and how these factors may be impacted by digestive physiology and efficiency. As faeces are often used to explore diet, we clarify how isotopic offsets between diet and faeces can be calculated, as well as some differences among commonly used calculations that can lead to confusion. Generally, faecal carbon isotope (δ13C) values are lower than those of the diet, while faecal nitrogen isotope values (δ15N) values are higher than in the diet. However, there is considerable variability both within and among species. We explore the role of study design and how limitations stemming from a variety of factors can affect both the reliability and interpretability of faecal isotope data sets. Finally, we summarise the various ways in which faecal isotopes have been applied to date and provide some suggestions for future research. Despite remaining challenges, faecal isotope data are poised to continue to contribute meaningfully to a variety of fields.

carbon, nitrogen, digestion, discrimination, turnover