Heterogeneous isotope effects decouple conifer leaf and branch sugar δ18O and δ13C

Richard P. Fiorella, Steven A. Kannenberg, William R.L. Anderegg, Russell K. Monson, James R. Ehleringer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Isotope ratios of tree-ring cellulose are a prominent tool to reconstruct paleoclimate and plant responses to environmental variation. Current models for cellulose isotope ratios assume a transfer of the environmental signals recorded in bulk leaf water to carbohydrates and ultimately into stem cellulose. However, the isotopic signal of carbohydrates exported from leaf to branch may deviate from mean leaf values if spatial heterogeneity in isotope ratios exists in the leaf. We tested whether the isotopic heterogeneity previously observed along the length of a ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) leaf water was preserved in photosynthetic products. We observed an increase in both sugar and bulk tissue δ18O values along the needle, but the increase in carbohydrate δ18O values was dampened relative to the trend observed in leaf water. In contrast, δ13C values of both sugar and bulk organic matter were invariant along the needle. Phloem-exported sugar measured in the branch below the needles did not match whole-needle values of δ18O or δ13C. Instead, there was a near-constant offset observed between the branch and needle sugar δ13C values, while branch δ18O values were most similar to δ18O values observed for sugar at the base of the needle. The observed offset between the branch and needle sugar δ18O values likely arises from partial isotope oxygen exchange between sugars and water during phloem loading and transport. An improved understanding of the conditions producing differential δ13C and δ18O isotope effects between branch phloem and needle sugars could improve tree-ring-based climate reconstructions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)357-370
Number of pages14
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2022


  • Cellulose
  • Ponderosa pine
  • Stable isotopes
  • Sugars
  • Tree rings

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


Dive into the research topics of 'Heterogeneous isotope effects decouple conifer leaf and branch sugar δ18O and δ13C'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this