Skip to main content
SLU publication database (SLUpub)

Research article2007Peer reviewed

Variation in the delta C-13 of foliage of Pinus sylvestris L. in relation to climate and additions of nitrogen: analysis of a 32-year chronology

Betson NR, Johannisson C, Lofvenius MO, Grip H, Granstrom A, Hogberg P


We report an analysis of both the long- and short-term drivers of the carbon (C) isotope composition (delta C-13) values of current year needles of Pinus sylvestris L. linked to changing atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations (c(a)) and climate using data from a uniquely long-term nitrogen (N) fertilization experiment in the north of Sweden (consisting of three N dosage levels and a control treatment) from 1970 until 2002. N loading produced trees with less negative delta C-13 of foliage, by around 0.45 parts per thousand on average, with the difference in delta C-13 between control and N treatments not dependant upon N dosage. The average delta C-13 values decreased at a rate of around 0.03 parts per thousand yr(-1), even after accounting for the Suess effect (the decrease in the atmospheric CO2 delta C-13 due to anthropogenic emissions of isotopically light CO2). This decrease is large enough to cause a significant, progressive change in the delta C-13 down through a soil profile. Modelled values of plant intrinsic water use efficiency (WUEi) and the ratio of leaf internal to external [CO2] (c(i)/c(a)) showed that this was the result of c(i) increasing in parallel with c(a) (while c(i)/c(a) increased), thus causing little change in WUEi over the 32 years of study. The residuals from the relationships between year and delta C-13 were used to examine the impact of climate on the interannual variation of C isotope composition of needles. This included the use of a fire hazard index (FHI) model, which integrates climatic factors known to influence plant stomatal conductance and hence delta C-13. The FHI produced the best fit with delta C-13 values when climate data were averaged over the whole growth season (for control plots) and for July for all the N treatments, explaining ca. 60% of the total interannual variation in delta C-13. Further, trees from the N treatments appeared more susceptible to air-humidity-based climate parameters, as seen from higher correlation coefficients, than were control trees. Thus, our data suggest the possibility of increased susceptibility to drought conditions in ecosystems with moderate to high N deposition rates. Also, there is the possibility that, because there was no apparent change in WUEi of P. sylvestris in this ecosystem over the last 32 years, the rate of sequestration of C into boreal ecosystems may not increase with c(a), as has been predicted

Published in

Global Change Biology
2007, Volume: 13, number: 11, pages: 2317-2328 Publisher: BLACKWELL PUBLISHING