- •Recent 13CO2 canopy pulse chase labeling studies revealed that photosynthesis influences the carbon isotopic composition of soil respired CO2 (δ13CSR) even on a diel timescale. However, the driving mechanisms underlying these short-term responses remain unclear, in particular under drought conditions.
- •The gas exchange of CO2 isotopes of canopy and soil was monitored in drought/nondrought-stressed beech (Fagus sylvatica) saplings after 13CO2 canopy pulse labeling. A combined canopy/soil chamber system with gas-tight separated soil and canopy compartments was coupled to a laser spectrometer measuring mixing ratios and isotopic composition of CO2 in air at high temporal resolution. The measured δ13CSR signal was then explained and substantiated by a mechanistic carbon allocation model.
- •Leaf metabolism had a strong imprint on diel cycles in control plants, as a result of an alternating substrate supply switching between sugar and transient starch. By contrast, diel cycles in drought-stressed plants were determined by the relative contributions of autotrophic and heterotrophic respiration throughout the day. Drought reduced the speed of the link between photosynthesis and soil respiration by a factor of c. 2.5, depending on the photosynthetic rate.
- •Drought slows the coupling between photosynthesis and soil respiration and alters the underlying mechanism causing diel variations of δ13CSR.