© 2020 The Author(s). Published by IOP Publishing Ltd Printed in the UK Laser-ion acceleration with ultra-short pulse, petawatt-class lasers is dominated by non-thermal, intra-pulse plasma dynamics. The presence of multiple ion species or multiple charge states in targets leads to characteristic modulations and even mono-energetic features, depending on the choice of target material. As spectral signatures of generated ion beams are frequently used to characterize underlying acceleration mechanisms, thermal, multi-fluid descriptions require revision for predictive capabilities and control in next-generation particle beam sources. We present an analytical model with explicit inter-species interactions, supported by extensive ab initio simulations. This enables us to derive important ensemble properties from the spectral distribution resulting from these multi-species effects for arbitrary mixtures. We further propose a potential experimental implementation with a novel cryogenic target, delivering jets with variable mixtures of hydrogen and deuterium. Free from contaminants and without strong influence of hardly controllable processes such as ionization dynamics, this would allow a systematic realization of our predictions for the multi-species effect.