Oecologia

, 155:441 | Cite as

Carbon isotopes and water use efficiency: sense and sensitivity

  • Ulli Seibt
  • Abazar Rajabi
  • Howard Griffiths
  • Joseph A. Berry
Physiological Ecology - Review

Abstract

We revisit the relationship between plant water use efficiency and carbon isotope signatures (δ13C) of plant material. Based on the definitions of intrinsic, instantaneous and integrated water use efficiency, we discuss the implications for interpreting δ13C data from leaf to landscape levels, and across diurnal to decadal timescales. Previous studies have often applied a simplified, linear relationship between δ13C, ratios of intercellular to ambient CO2 mole fraction (Ci/Ca), and water use efficiency. In contrast, photosynthetic 13C discrimination (Δ) is sensitive to the ratio of the chloroplast to ambient CO2 mole fraction, Cc/Ca (rather than Ci/Ca) and, consequently, to mesophyll conductance. Because mesophyll conductance may differ between species and over time, it is not possible to determine Cc/Ca from the same gas exchange measurements as Ci/Ca. On the other hand, water use efficiency at the leaf level depends on evaporative demand, which does not directly affect Δ. Water use efficiency and Δ can thus vary independently, making it difficult to obtain trends in water use efficiency from δ13C data. As an alternative approach, we offer a model available at http://carbonisotopes.googlepages.com to explore how water use efficiency and 13C discrimination are related across leaf and canopy scales. The model provides a tool to investigate whether trends in Δ indicate changes in leaf functional traits and/or environmental conditions during leaf growth, and how they are associated with trends in plant water use efficiency. The model can be used, for example, to examine whether trends in δ13C signatures obtained from tree rings imply changes in tree water use efficiency in response to atmospheric CO2 increase. This is crucial for predicting how plants may respond to future climate change.

Keywords

Carbon isotope discrimination Evaporative demand Tree ring analysis Water use efficiency 

Supplementary material

442_2007_932_MOESM1_ESM.doc (478 kb)
ESM1 (DOC 478 kb)

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ulli Seibt
    • 1
    • 2
  • Abazar Rajabi
    • 1
    • 3
  • Howard Griffiths
    • 1
  • Joseph A. Berry
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Plant SciencesUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK
  2. 2.Department of Global EcologyCarnegie Institution of WashingtonStanfordUSA
  3. 3.Sugar Beet Seed Institute (SBSI)KarajIran

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