Photosynthesis Research

, Volume 113, Issue 1–3, pp 297–309 | Cite as

Species-specific differences in temporal and spatial variation in δ13C of plant carbon pools and dark-respired CO2 under changing environmental conditions

  • Maren Dubbert
  • Katherine G. Rascher
  • Christiane Werner
Regular Paper


Stable carbon isotope signatures are often used as tracers for environmentally driven changes in photosynthetic δ13C discrimination. However, carbon isotope signatures downstream from carboxylation by Rubisco are altered within metabolic pathways, transport and respiratory processes, leading to differences in δ13C between carbon pools along the plant axis and in respired CO2. Little is known about the within-plant variation in δ13C under different environmental conditions or between species. We analyzed spatial, diurnal, and environmental variations in δ13C of water soluble organic matter (δ13CWSOM) of leaves, phloem and roots, as well as dark-respired δ13CO213Cres) in leaves and roots. We selected distinct light environments (forest understory and an open area), seasons (Mediterranean spring and summer drought) and three functionally distinct understory species (two native shrubs—Halimium halimifolium and Rosmarinus officinalis—and a woody invader—Acacia longifolia). Spatial patterns in δ13CWSOM along the plant vertical axis and between respired δ13CO2 and its putative substrate were clearly species specific and the most δ13C-enriched and depleted values were found in δ13C of leaf dark-respired CO2 and phloem sugars, ~−15 and ~−33 ‰, respectively. Comparisons between study sites and seasons revealed that spatial and diurnal patterns were influenced by environmental conditions. Within a species, phloem δ13CWSOM and δ13Cres varied by up to 4 ‰ between seasons and sites. Thus, careful characterization of the magnitude and environmental dependence of apparent post-carboxylation fractionation is needed when using δ13C signatures to trace changes in photosynthetic discrimination.


Post-carboxylation fractionation Stable carbon isotopes Carbon isotope fractionation Carbon pools Environmental variability 



We thank the Estabelecimento Prisional de Pinheiro da Cruz for logistical support and allowing the establishment of our field sites and Cristina Máguas for logistical help in the field and laboratory. We gratefully acknowledge help in the field from Marc Müller and Patrícia Fernandes, the skillful technical assistance of Babsi Teichner and Rodrigo Maia in the laboratory and valuable comments on the manuscript from Stephan Unger. Funding for this project was provided by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (TRANSDUNE Project: # WE 2681/3-1 and ECORES # WE 2681/5-1) and the Deutsche Akademische Austausch Dienst (D/08/13009).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maren Dubbert
    • 1
  • Katherine G. Rascher
    • 1
  • Christiane Werner
    • 1
  1. 1.Experimental and System EcologyUniversity of BielefeldBielefeldGermany

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