Impacts of climate and tree morphology on tree-ring stable isotopes in central Mongolia

Caroline Leland, Laia Andreu-Hayles, Edward R. Cook, Kevin J. Anchukaitis, Oyunsanaa Byambasuren, Nicole Davi, Amy Hessl, Dario Martin-Benito, Baatarbileg Nachin, Neil Pederson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Recent climate extremes in Mongolia have ignited a renewed interest in understanding past climate variability over centennial and longer time scales across north-central Asia. Tree-ring width records have been extensively studied in Mongolia as proxies for climate reconstruction, however, the climate and environmental signals of tree-ring stable isotopes from this region need to be further explored. Here, we evaluated a 182-year record of tree-ring δ13C and δ18O from Siberian Pine (Pinus sibirica Du Tour) from a xeric site in central Mongolia (Khorgo Lava) to elucidate the environmental factors modulating these parameters. First, we analyzed the climate sensitivity of tree-ring δ13C and δ18O at Khorgo Lava for comparison with ring-width records, which have been instrumental in reconstructing hydroclimate in central Mongolia over two millennia. We also compared stable isotope records of trees with partial cambial dieback ('strip-bark morphology'), a feature of long-lived conifers growing on resource-limited sites, and trees with a full cambium ('whole-bark morphology'), to assess the inferred leaf-level physiological behavior of these trees. We found that interannual variability in tree-ring δ13C and δ18O reflected summer hydroclimatic variability, and captured recent, extreme drought conditions, thereby complementing ring-width records. The tree-ring δ18O records also had a spring temperature signal and thus expanded the window of climate information recorded by these trees. Over longer time scales, strip-bark trees had an increasing trend in ring-widths, δ13C (and intrinsic water-use efficiency, iWUE) and δ18O, relative to whole-bark trees. Our results suggest that increases in iWUE at this site might be related to a combination of leaf-level physiological responses to increasing atmospheric CO2, recent drought, and stem morphological changes. Our study underscores the potential of stable isotopes for broadening our understanding of past climate in north-central Asia. However, further studies are needed to understand how stem morphological changes might impact stable isotopic trends.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)539-555
Number of pages17
JournalTree Physiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2023


  • central Asia
  • drought
  • gas-exchange
  • stable carbon isotopes
  • stable oxygen isotopes
  • strip-bark

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science


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