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Tree Physiol. 2009 Nov;29(11):1433-45. doi: 10.1093/treephys/tpp072. Epub 2009 Sep 21.

Tracing of recently assimilated carbon in respiration at high temporal resolution in the field with a tuneable diode laser absorption spectrometer after in situ 13CO2 pulse labelling of 20-year-old beech trees.

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  • 1Nancy Université, Université Henri Poincaré, UMR 1137, Ecologie et Ecophysiologie Forestières, Faculté des Sciences, F-54500 Vandoeuvre les Nancy, France.


The study of the fate of assimilated carbon in respiratory fluxes in the field is needed to resolve the residence and transfer times of carbon in the atmosphere-plant-soil system in forest ecosystems, but it requires high frequency measurements of the isotopic composition of evolved CO2. We developed a closed transparent chamber to label the whole crown of a tree and a labelling system capable of delivering a 3-h pulse of 99% 13CO2 in the field. The isotopic compositions of trunk and soil CO2 effluxes were recorded continuously on two labelled and one control trees by a tuneable diode laser absorption spectrometer during a 2-month chase period following the late summer labelling. The lag times for trunk CO2 effluxes are consistent with a phloem sap velocity of about 1 m h(-1). The isotopic composition (delta13C) of CO2 efflux from the trunk was maximal 2-3 days after labelling and declined thereafter following two exponential decays with a half-life of 2-8 days for the first and a half-life of 15-16 days for the second. The isotopic composition of the soil CO2 efflux was maximal 3-4 days after labelling and the decline was also well fitted with a sum of two exponential functions with a half-life of 3-5 days for the first exponential and a half-life of 16-18 days for the second. The amount of label recovered in CO2 efflux was around 10-15% of the assimilated 13CO2 for soil and 5-13% for trunks. As labelling occurred late in the growing season, substantial allocation to storage is expected.

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