Weather and climate controls over the seasonal carbon isotope dynamics of sugars from subalpine forest trees

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19 Scopus citations


We examined the environmental variables that influence the Δ13C value of needle and phloem sugars in trees in a subalpine forest. We collected sugars from Pinus contorta, Picea engelmannii and Abies lasiocarpa from 2006 to 2008. Phloem and needle sugars were enriched in 13C during the autumn, winter and early spring, but depleted during the growing season. We hypothesized that the late-winter and early-spring 13C enrichment was due to the mobilization of carbon assimilated the previous autumn; however, needle starch concentrations were completely exhausted by autumn, and we observed evidence of new starch production during episodic warm weather events during the winter and early-spring. Instead, we found that 13C enrichment was best explained by the occurrence of cold night-time temperatures. We also observed seasonal decoupling in the 13C/12C ratios of needle and phloem sugars. We hypothesized that this was due to seasonally-changing source-sink patterns, which drove carbon translocation from the needles towards the roots early in the season, before bud break, but from the roots towards the needles later in the season, after bud break. Overall, our results demonstrate that the 13C/12C ratio of recently-assimilated sugars can provide a sensitive record of the short-term coupling between climate and tree physiology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)35-47
Number of pages13
JournalPlant, Cell and Environment
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2010


  • Carbon isotope
  • Conifer
  • Discrimination
  • Mountain ecosystem
  • Sugars
  • Temperature

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science


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