Ecological interpretation of leaf carbon isotope ratios: influence of respired carbon dioxide

L. L. Sternberg, S. S. Mulkey, S. J. Wright

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

132 Scopus citations


In a Neotropical moist forest at Barro Colorado Island, Panama, δ13C values of CO2 in air and δ13C values of leaf tissue exhibit parallel patterns of variation between the forest floor and the canopy. During the daytime, δ13C values of CO2 from air sampled at 1 m and 0.5 m were significantly less than that at 25 m. Up to 18% of CO2 in air at 0.5 m above the forest floor is from respiration. Respired CO2 is responsible for 31 and 37% of the variation in isotope composition in leaves of 2 species of herbaceous bamboo grown in a well-ventilated sun treatment and in the forest understory. Respired CO2 accounts for 45-70% of the difference in δ13C values between understory and canopy leaves for 3 tree species growing in large-scale irrigation and control treatments. Understory leaves of these species show δ13C values consistent with higher ratios of intercellular to ambient CO2 in irrigated relative to control treatments. Estimates of water-use efficiency from leaf carbon isotope content should be corrected for the contribution of the carbon isotope composition of respired CO2 in closed-canopy forests. -Authors

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1317-1324
Number of pages8
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1989
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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