, Volume 156, Issue 4, pp 737-750
Date: 05 Apr 2008

Temporal dynamics of the carbon isotope composition in a Pinus sylvestris stand: from newly assimilated organic carbon to respired carbon dioxide

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The 13C isotopic signature (C stable isotope ratio; δ13C) of CO2 respired from forest ecosystems and their particular compartments are known to be influenced by temporal changes in environmental conditions affecting C isotope fractionation during photosynthesis. Whereas most studies have assessed temporal variation in δ13C of ecosystem-respired CO2 on a day-to-day scale, not much information is available on its diel dynamics. We investigated environmental and physiological controls over potential temporal changes in δ13C of respired CO2 by following the short-term dynamics of the 13C signature from newly assimilated organic matter pools in the needles, via phloem-transported organic matter in twigs and trunks, to trunk-, soil- and ecosystem-respired CO2. We found a strong 24-h periodicity in δ13C of organic matter in leaf and twig phloem sap, which was strongly dampened as carbohydrates were transported down the trunk. Periodicity reappeared in the δ13C of trunk-respired CO2, which seemed to originate from apparent respiratory fractionation rather than from changes in δ13C of the organic substrate. The diel patterns of δ13C in soil-respired CO2 are partly explained by soil temperature and moisture and are probably due to changes in the relative contribution of heterotrophic and autotrophic CO2 fluxes to total soil efflux in response to environmental conditions. Our study shows that direct relations between δ13C of recent assimilates and respired CO2 may not be present on a diel time scale, and other factors lead to short-term variations in δ13C of ecosystem-emitted CO2. On the one hand, these variations complicate ecosystem CO2 flux partitioning, but on the other hand they provide new insights into metabolic processes underlying respiratory CO2 emission.

Communicated by Andrea Polle.