Plant and Soil

, Volume 291, Issue 1–2, pp 93–107 | Cite as

Hydrogen isotope fractionation during water uptake by woody xerophytes

  • Patrick Z. EllsworthEmail author
  • David G. Williams
Original Paper


Stable isotope measurements are employed extensively in plant–water relations research to investigate physiological and hydrological processes from whole plant to ecosystem scales. Stable isotopes of hydrogen and oxygen are routinely measured to identify plant source water. This application relies on the assumption that no fractionation of oxygen and hydrogen isotopes in water occurs during uptake by roots. However, a large fraction of the water taken up through roots in halophytic and xerophytic plants transverses cell membranes in the endodermis before entering the root xylem. Passage of water through this symplastic pathway has been hypothesized to cause fractionation leading to a decrease in 2H of root xylem water relative to that in the surrounding soil medium. We examined 16 woody halophytic and xerophytic plant species in controlled conditions for evidence of hydrogen isotope fractionation during uptake at the root–soil interface. Isotopic separation (Δ2H = δ2Hsoil water − δ2Hxylem water) ranging from 3‰ to 9‰ was observed in 12 species. A significant positive correlation between salinity tolerance and the magnitude of Δ2H was observed. Water in whole stem segments, sapwood, and roots had significantly lower δ2H values relative to soil water in Prosopis velutina Woot., the species expressing the greatest Δ2H values among the 16 species examined. Pressurized water flow through intact root systems of Artemisia tridentata Nutt. and Atriplex canescens (Pursh) Nutt. caused the δ2H values to decrease as flow rate increased. This relationship was not observed in P. velutina. Destroying the plasma membranes of root cells by excessive heat from boiling did not significantly alter the relationship between δ2H of expressed water and flow rate. In light of these results, care should be taken when using the stable isotope method to examine source-water use in halophytic and xerophytic species.


Hydrogen isotope fractionation Roots Xerophyte Halophyte Transpiration 



We thank Enrico Yepez, Victor Resco, Rico Gazal, and Ayme Ahrens for their help with the greenhouse experiments. We also thank Ann Hild and Brent Ewers for their help during the manuscript preparation.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of MiamiCoral GablesUSA
  2. 2.Department of Renewable ResourcesUniversity of WyomingLaramieUSA
  3. 3.Department of BotanyUniversity of WyomingLaramieUSA

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