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Keywords:

  • Environmental gradients;
  • foliar carbon isotope signature;
  • plant functional groups;
  • water-use efficiency

Abstract

Variations in foliar stable carbon isotope signatures (δ13C) of different plant functional groups (PFGs) and their relationships with environmental factors in China were investigated in this meta-analysis. There were some significant, but small differences in δ13C among PFGs categorised by life form (<1‰). Trees (−26.78‰) and shrubs (−26.89‰) had similar mean δ13C that were significantly higher than those of herbs (−27.49‰). Evergreen shrubs (−25.82‰) had significantly higher mean δ13C than deciduous shrubs (−26.92‰). Perennial herbs (−26.83‰) had significantly higher mean δ13C than annual herbs (−27.10‰). Grasses (−26.46‰) had significantly higher mean δ13C than forbs (−26.96‰). For pooled data, δ13C was significantly and negatively correlated with mean annual precipitation (MAP) and mean annual temperature (MAT), while it was significantly and positively correlated with latitude and altitude. There was a threshold value of MAP along the gradients, and δ13C did not change significantly with higher rainfall. The δ13C of PFGs changed with altitude, suggesting that increases in δ13C with altitude cannot be generalised. Differences in δ13C between PFGs were generally much <1‰ and therefore insignificant. In contrast, MAP and MAT had relatively large effects on δ13C (more than 4‰ between extremes). The δ13C of some PFGs responded to environmental gradients in the same manner, while their ‘rates’ of change were significantly different in some cases. This information could help predict potential changes in the distribution of PFGs in response to future climate change.