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Variation in carbon isotope composition of plants across an aridity gradient on the Loess Plateau, China

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Yang, YZ; Gou, RK; Zhao, J; Qi, N; Wen, ZM; Kassout, J; Li, RN; Lin, GH; Zheng, H

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2022

GLOBAL ECOLOGY AND CONSERVATION

33

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Carbon isotope composition (indicated by leaf delta C-13) reflects plants' strategies to balance carbon acquisition and water loss, which is directly linked to water use efficiency. At a large scale, leaf delta C-13 has been demonstrated to be closely related to climate and plant functional types; however, at a regional scale, its variation across an aridity gradient and species categories and its covariation with traits in leaf economic spectrum (LES) traits are still unclear. Here, a multivariate statistical analysis was carried out with 271 observations of leaf delta C-13 from 22 sampling sites on the Loess Plateau. Our results showed that (1) mean leaf delta C-13 did not differ significantly among life forms in C-3 plants, with the maximum mean values occurring in geophytes (-26.31) and the minimum values occurring in lianas (-28.29); (2) the leaf delta C-13 responses of different life forms, families and species categories to climates were consistent for C-3 plants, namely, they presented similar response rates to changes along the aridity gradient (represented by the moisture index); (3) climate, soil, species category, and leaf economic spectrum traits jointly explained 78.4% of the variation in leaf delta C-13 for C-3 plants. Species category was the largest determinant of leaf delta C-13 variations for both C-3 and C-4 plants. Revealing the variation in leaf delta C-13 of the Loess Plateau plants not only helps us to understand plant adaptation strategies under arid conditions but also provides scientific support for ecological management in vegetation restoration regions.

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