Springer Nature is making Coronavirus research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Climatic implications of δ13C and δ18O ratios from C3 and C4 plants growing in a tropical montane habitat in southern India

  • 158 Accesses

  • 17 Citations


The stable carbon and oxygen isotope ratios in cellulose of C3 and C4 plants growing on the surface of a montane peat bog in the Nilgiri hills, southern India, were measured. The mean monthly δ13C values in cellulose of both C3 and C4 plants are found to be significantly related to rainfall, while the δ18O values are sensitive to changes in maximum temperature and relative humidity of the region. Further, higher δ18O values were observed in C4 plants compared to C3 plants, suggesting that C4 plants are probably less sensitive to relative humidity as compared to C3 plants and are able to photosynthesize even during drier conditions. The plant isotope-climate correlations thus established can be used for reconstructing the past temperature and rainfall conditions of the tropics from the isotopic ratios of peat deposits, derived from a mixture of C3 and C4 plants in the region.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Aucour A M and Hillaire-Marcel C 1993 A 30,000 year record of13C and18O changes in organic matter from an equatorial peat bog;Geophys. Monogr. 78 343–351

  2. Burk R L 1979Factors affecting oxygen-18/oxygen-16 ratios in cellulose, Ph.D. Thesis, University of Washington, USA

  3. Burk R L and Stuiver M 1981 Oxygen isotope ratios in trees reflect mean annual temperature and relative humidity;Science 211 1417

  4. DeNiro M J and Epstein S 1979 Relationship between the oxygen isotope ratios of terrestrial plant cellulose, carbon dioxide and water;Science 204 51–53

  5. Ehleringer J R and Cooper T A 1988 Correlations between carbon isotope ratio and microhabitat in desert plants;Oecologia 76 562–566

  6. Epstein S, Thompson P and Yapp C J 1977 Oxygen and hydrogen isotopic ratios in plant cellulose;Science 198 1209–1215

  7. Farmer J G and Baxter M S 1974 Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels as indicated by the stable isotopic record in wood;Nature (London) 247 273–275

  8. Francey R J and Farquhar G D 1982 An explanation of13C/12C variations in tree rings;Nature (London) 297 28–31

  9. Green J W 1963 Wood Cellulose; inMethods in carbohydrate chemistry III (ed.) R L Whistler (New York: Academic Press) p9

  10. Hughes M K, Kelly P M, Pitcher J R and LaMarche V C 1982Climate from tree rings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)

  11. Korner Ch., Farquhar G D and Roksandic Z 1988 A global survey of carbon isotope discrimination in plants from high altitude;Oecologia 74 623–632

  12. Leavitt S W and Long A 1982 Evidence for13C/12C fractionation between tree leaves and wood;Nature (London) 298 742–744

  13. Leavitt S W and Long A 1989 Intertree variability of δ13C in tree rings; inStable isotopes in ecological research (eds) P W Rundel, J R Ehleringer and K A Nagy (New York: Springer-Verlag) pp 95–104

  14. Legris P and Blasco F 1969 Variability des facteurs du climat: Cas des montagnes du sud de l’Inde et de Ceylan;Inst. Fr. Pondicherry Tr. Sect. Sci. Tech. 8 1–195

  15. Long A 1982 Stable isotopes in tree rings; inClimate from tree rings (eds) M K Hughes, P M Kelly, J R Pilcher and V C LaMarche (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) pp 13–18

  16. Rajagopalan G, Sukumar R, Ramesh R, Pant R K and Rajagopalan G 1997 Late Quaternary vegetational and climatic changes from tropical peats in southern India — an extended record up to 40,000 years BP;Curr. Sci. 73 60–63

  17. Ramesh R 1984Stable isotope systematics in plant cellulose: implications to past climate, Ph.D. Thesis, Gujarat University, Ahmedabad, Gujrat

  18. Ramesh R, Bhattacharya S K and Gopalan K 1986 Climatic signatures in the stable isotope records of silver fir (Abies pindrow) trees from Kashmir, India;Earth Planet Sci. Lett. 79 66–74

  19. Rittenberg D and Ponticarvo L 1956 A method for determination of the18O concentration of the oxygen in organic compounds;Int. J. Appl. Radioact. Isotopes 1 208–214

  20. Schleser G H 1995 Parameters determining carbon isotope ratios in plants; inProblems of stable isotopes in tree-rings, lake sediments and peat-bogs as climatic evidence for the Holocene (eds) B Frenzel, B Stauffer and M M Weiß (Stuttgart: Gustav Fischer Verlag) pp 71–95

  21. Sternberg L and DeNiro M J 1983 Isotopic composition of cellulose from C3, C4 and CAM plants growing in the vicinity of one another;Science 220 947–949

  22. Sternberg L, DeNiro M J and Ting I P 1984a Carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen isotope ratios of cellulose from plants having intermediary photosynthetic modes;Plant Physiol. 74 104–107

  23. Sternberg L, DeNiro M J and Johnson H B 1984b Isotopic ratios of cellulose from plants having different photosynthetic pathways;Plant Physiol. 74 557–561

  24. Sternberg L S L 1989 Oxygen and hydrogen isotope ratios in plant cellulose: mechanisms and applications; inStable isotopes in ecological research (eds) P W Rundel, J R Ehleringer and K A Nagy (New York: Springer-Verlag) pp 124–141

  25. Stump R K and Frazer J W 1973 Simultaneous determination of carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen in organic compounds;Nucl. Sci. Abstr. 28 7848

  26. Sukumar R, Bhattacharya S K and Krishnamurthy R V 1987 Carbon isotopic evidence for different feeding patterns in an Asian elephant population;Curr. Sci. 56 11–14

  27. Sukumar R, Ramesh R, Pant R K and Rajagopalan G 1993 A δ13C record of late Quaternary climate change from tropical peats in southern India;Nature (London) 364 703–706

  28. von Lengerke H J 1977The Nilgiris: Weather and climate of a mountain area in south India (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag)

  29. Wilson A T and Grinsted M J 197712C/13C in cellulose and lignin as palaeothermometers;Nature (London) 265 133–135

Download references

Author information

Correspondence to R. Sukumar.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Rajagopalan, G., Ramesh, R. & Sukumar, R. Climatic implications of δ13C and δ18O ratios from C3 and C4 plants growing in a tropical montane habitat in southern India. J. Biosci. 24, 491–498 (1999).

Download citation


  • Stable isotopes
  • palaeoclimate
  • C3/C4 plants
  • peats