Evaluation and Integration of Environmental Stress Using Stable Isotopes

  • H. Griffiths
Part of the Advances in Photosynthesis and Respiration book series (AIPH, volume 5)


Recent developments in the use of stable isotopes are set in the context of advances in theory and analytical procedures, with emphasis on potential applications for the future. Starting from initial requirements for biological markers which would allow the deconvolution of past climatic conditions, a mechanistic framework has been developed for the isotopes of carbon (δ13 C), oxygen (δ 18O) and hydrogen (δD). Understanding the interplay between fractionation against a heavy isotope during equilibrium (phase changes) and kinetic processes (diffusion and biochemical reactions) has led to the analysis of biological discrimination (Δ) as distinct from simple source effects. For each isotope, the effect of environmental stress on discrimination is translated into the signal that would be carried by biochemical intermediates and plant organic material, together with the instantaneous effects measurable during gas exchange.

Discrimination against 13C provides either an instantaneous or a long term measure of the interaction between carboxylation and stomatal plus mesophyll diffusive limitation. Traditional uses for evaluating photosynthetic pathways are updated for CO2 concentrating mechanisms in lichens. Real-time, on-line discrimination, coupled with analysis of the isotope composition of biochemical intermediates, is used to illustrate the interaction between environmental stress and photosynthetic metabolism. The relationship between gas exchange characteristics, dry matter accumulation, organic material A and water use can aid the selection of clones suitable for agroforestry in arid regions or be used to evaluate the extent of phenotypic plasticity in natural populations in response to elevated CO2.

Analysis of δ18O and δDwill complement and extend our understanding of the utilization of water sources, particularly in arid environments. The development of a quantitative basis to fractionation during metabolism, provides an additional means for integrating leaf water composition, organic material and environmental conditions. Thus, a powerful suite of stable isotope techniques now have the potential for scaling up exchanges between vegetation and the atmosphere. The use of isotopes to evaluate plant responses to environmental stress has widespread applications for the future, particularly when coupled to more facile sample preparation and rapid throughput in automated analytical systems.


Stable Isotope Leaf Water Crassulacean Acid Metabolism Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometer Carbon Isotope Discrimination 
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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • H. Griffiths
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Agricultural and Environmental ScienceThe UniversityNewcastle upon TyneUK

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