Original Paper


, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 83-93

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Identification of anatomically non-distinct annual rings in tropical trees using stable isotopes

  • Thijs L. PonsAffiliated withDepartment of Plant Ecophysiology, Institute of Environmental Biology, Utrecht University Email author 
  • , Gerhard HelleAffiliated withGerman Centre for Geosciences, Section 5.2, Helmholtz-Centre Potsdam


Annual rings are generally not anatomically distinct in trees growing in the humid tropics. The possibility to use radial variation in stable isotopes (δ18O and δ13C) for the identification of annual rings in these trees was investigated in two species growing in the tropical rainforest of Central Guyana, Carapa guianensis and Goupia glabra. The climate is characterised by an annual precipitation of 2,700 mm that is distributed over two rainy and two dry seasons. Cores were taken from trees of measured diameter increment rates. High-resolution tangential sections in radial direction were dissected from these cores and isotopic ratios were measured on whole wood. Variation in δ13C was about 1‰ at an annual scale, whereas δ18O showed two to four times larger annual excursions. The minima in δ18O were selected as primary indicators of annual boundaries at the main wet season when also δ18O of precipitation water has its minimum. The minima in δ13C coincided often with these. The simultaneous occurrence is consistent with increased discrimination against 13C at high water availability. They were used as secondary criteria. Annual rings could thus be identified with reasonable certainty in both species from radial variation in isotopic ratios as verified with measured diameter increment rates. The short sequence covered in the analysis did not show clear correlation with the available precipitation data for the area. The method supplemented with other dating methods may prove to be practically useful for identifying annual rings and applying classical dendrochronology when more cost effective automatic sampling devices become available.


Tree ring Stable carbon isotope Stable oxygen isotope Tropical rainforest Carapa guianensis Goupia glabra