Effect of water availability on leaf water isotopic enrichment in beech seedlings shows limitations of current fractionation models


A. Gessler. Fax: +49 761 2038302; e-mail: arthur.gessler@sonne.uni-freiburg.de


Current models of leaf water enrichment predict that the differences between isotopic enrichment of water at the site of evaporation (Δe) and mean lamina leaf water enrichment (ΔL) depend on transpiration rates (E), modulated by the scaled effective length (L) of water isotope movement in the leaf. However, variations in leaf parameters in response to changing environmental conditions might cause changes in the water path and thus L. We measured the diel course of ΔL for 18O and 2H in beech seedlings under well-watered and water-limited conditions. We applied evaporative enrichment models of increasing complexity to predict Δe and ΔL, and estimated L from model fits. Water-limited plants showed moderate drought stress, with lower stomatal conductance, E and stem water potential than the control. Despite having double E, the divergence between Δe and ΔL was lower in well-watered than in water-limited plants, and thus, L should have changed to counteract differences in E. Indeed, L was about threefold higher in water-limited plants, regardless of the models used. We conclude that L changes with plant water status far beyond the variations explained by water content and other measured variables, thus limiting the use of current evaporative models under changing environmental conditions.