, Volume 175, Issue 3, pp 747–762 | Cite as

Long-term 13C labeling provides evidence for temporal and spatial carbon allocation patterns in mature Picea abies

  • Manuel Mildner
  • Martin K.-F. Bader
  • Sebastian Leuzinger
  • Rolf T. W. Siegwolf
  • Christian Körner
Physiological ecology - Original research


There is evidence of continued stimulation of foliage photosynthesis in trees exposed to elevated atmospheric CO2 concentrations; however, this is mostly without a proportional growth response. Consequently, we lack information on the fate of this extra carbon (C) acquired. By a steady application of a 13CO2 label in a free air CO2 enrichment (FACE) experiment, we traced the fate of C in 37-m-tall, ca. 110-year-old Picea abies trees in a natural forest in Switzerland. Hence, we are not reporting tree responses to elevated CO2 (which would require equally 13C labeled controls), but are providing insights into assimilate processing in such trees. Sunlit needles and branchlets grow almost exclusively from current assimilates, whereas shaded parts of the crowns also rely on stored C. Only 2.5 years after FACE initiation, tree rings contained 100 % new C. Stem-respiratory CO2 averaged 50 % of new C over the entire FACE period. Fine roots and mycorrhizal fungi contained 49–56 and 26–43 % new C, respectively, after 2.5 years. The isotopic signals in soil CO2 arrived 12 days after the onset of FACE, yet it contained only ca. 15 % new C thereafter. We conclude that new C first feeds into fast turnover C pools in the canopy and becomes increasingly mixed with older C sources as one moves away (downward) from the crown. We speculate that enhanced C turnover (its metabolic cost) along the phloem path, as evidenced by basipetal isotope signal depletion, explains part of the ‘missing carbon’ in trees that assimilated more C under elevated CO2.


Carbon isotopes Elevated CO2 FACE Forest Respiration 



We greatly appreciate help from M. Saurer and K. Lötscher at the Paul Scherrer Institute for C isotope analyses, E. Amstutz for crane operation and FACE maintenance, Georges Grun for FACE supervision, Olivier Bignucolo and several student helpers for their support in data collection and sample processing (notably Martin Trischler as part of his Master thesis), and Rigobert Keller and members of the Mycological Association Basel for fungal taxonomic classification. This project was funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (Grants 31003AB-126028 and 31003A_140753, 31-67775.02, 3100-059769.99, 3100-067775.02, and 3100AO-111914/1). The crane was sponsored by the Swiss Federal Office of the Environment (FOEN).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Manuel Mildner
    • 1
  • Martin K.-F. Bader
    • 1
    • 2
  • Sebastian Leuzinger
    • 1
    • 3
  • Rolf T. W. Siegwolf
    • 4
  • Christian Körner
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of BotanyUniversity of BaselBaselSwitzerland
  2. 2.New Zealand Forest Research Institute (SCION)RotoruaNew Zealand
  3. 3.Institute for Applied Ecology New Zealand, School of Applied SciencesAuckland University of TechnologyAucklandNew Zealand
  4. 4.Laboratory of Atmospheric ChemistryPaul Scherrer Institute, PSIVilligenSwitzerland

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