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Variation in carbon isotope discrimination within and among Sphagnum species in a temperate wetland


Field samples of bryophytes are highly variable in carbon isotope discrimination values (Δ, a measure of 13CO2 uptake relative to 12CO2), but it is unknown what affects Δ under field conditions, or how variation in Δ relates to bryophyte performance. This study employed field and greenhouse common garden studies to evaluate the influence of microsite, seasonal, and genetic variation on Δ in peatmosses. Three species of Sphagnum that occupy hollow (S. recurvum), carpet (S. palustre), and hummock (S. tenerum) habitats were sampled for relative growth rates (RGR), C:N ratio, and Δ throughout a growing season. Values of Δ ranged from 19.0 to 27.1‰. This variation was unrelated to species (P=0.61). However, Δ varied seasonally (P<0.001), with lower discrimination in the spring (mean 22.5‰), followed by summer (23.8‰) and winter (24.7‰). There was also significant microsite variation (P=0.015) which disappeared when plants were grown in a common garden. In both spring and summer, microsite variation in Δ was inversely related to RGR (P<0.001), but unrelated to C:N ratios (P>0.08). These results suggest that environmental, not genetic, variation at microsites affects Δ in non-vascular plants. However, environmental control of Δ is unlike that in vascular plants where water limitation lowers chloroplastic demand and increases resistance to carbon uptake. In non-vascular plants, water limitation lowers chloroplastic demand and decreases resistance to carbon uptake. These processes have additive effects and generate high spatial and seasonal variability in Δ.

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Received: 29 April 1999 / Accepted: 8 November 1999

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Rice, S. Variation in carbon isotope discrimination within and among Sphagnum species in a temperate wetland. Oecologia 123, 1–8 (2000).

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  • Key words Carbon isotope discrimination
  • Sphagnum
  • 13C/12C
  • Carbon:nitrogen ratio
  • Physiological ecology