Oxygen isotopes in tree rings are less sensitive to changes in tree size and relative canopy position than carbon isotopes

Stefan Klesse, Rosemarie Weigt, Kerstin Treydte, Matthias Saurer, Lola Schmid, Rolf T.W. Siegwolf, David C. Frank

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Stable isotope ratios in tree rings have become an important proxy for palaeoclimatology, particularly in temperate regions. Yet temperate forests are often characterized by heterogeneous stand structures, and the effects of stand dynamics on carbon (δ13C) and oxygen isotope ratios (δ18O) in tree rings are not well explored. In this study, we investigated long-term trends and offsets in δ18O and δ13C of Picea abies and Fagus sylvatica in relation to tree age, size, and distance to the upper canopy at seven temperate sites across Europe. We observed strong positive trends in δ13C that are best explained by the reconstructed dynamics of individual trees below the upper canopy, highlighting the influence of light attenuation on δ13C in shade-tolerant species. We also detected positive trends in δ18O with increasing tree size. However, the observed slopes are less steep and consistent between trees of different ages and thus can be more easily addressed. We recommend restricting the use of δ13C to years when trees are in a dominant canopy position to infer long-term climate signals in δ13C when relying on material from shade-tolerant species, such as beech and spruce. For such species, δ18O should be in principle the superior proxy for climate reconstructions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2899-2914
Number of pages16
JournalPlant Cell and Environment
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2018


  • Fagus sylvatica
  • Picea abies
  • light attenuation
  • long-term trend
  • stable isotope
  • stand dynamics
  • tree ring

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science


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