Leaf Wax δ13C Varies with Elevation in the Peruvian Andes and Western Amazonia
Monday, 14 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
Plant leaf wax carbon isotopic composition (δ13Cwax) reflects the net isotopic effects associated with diffusion into the leaf, fixation of carbon by Rubisco and biosynthesis of individual leaf wax biochemicals. As declining pCO2 with elevation affects the first two fractionations, we expect to find an isotopic gradient in δ13Cwax, if the fractionation of leaf wax biosynthesis is constant. To test this, we report δ13Cwax values from 500 samples of leaves collected by tree-climbers from the upper canopy from 9 forest-inventory plots spanning a 3.5km elevation transect in the Peruvian Andes and western Amazonia during the CHAMBASA field campaign. These samples provide a unique opportunity to study the relationship between δ13Cwax and pCO2 in diverse species across this remote tropical montane forest and lowland rainforest. The very wet climate throughout (2-5 m rainfall per year) minimizes fractionation effects due to stomatal restrictions (i.e. water use efficiency) that may be an important factor elsewhere. Preliminary results show δ13Cwax values on average increase with elevation by ~1.5‰/km, a trend consistent with bulk plant δ13C in previous studies. The mean epsilon between bulk and C29 n-alkane is -7.3±2.2‰. Inter-sample differences are large on the order of 10‰. Shaded leaves and understory leaves are found to be depleted relative to sunlit leaves, presumably due to a lower photosynthetic rate and use of respired CO2 in the understory. C29 n-alkanes are on average ~2.5‰ more depleted than C30 n-alkanoic acids, indicating fractionation during selective decarboxylation. We further compare results from plants with soil and river sediments to provide insights into how leaf wax signals are archived in soils and exported from the landscape. We find a ~1.4‰/km gradient in forest soils similar to plants. We observe a ~2‰ offset between C29 n-alkane in plant leaves and in soils across the elevation profile, which is likely a signal of degradation. Suspended sediments from the Kosñipata and Madre de Dios Rivers draining this region show δ13Cwax values aligned with soils from the mean elevation of the catchment, suggesting soils as the sources of waxes exported in rivers, with ages on average 400-2,000 years revealed by compound specific radiocarbon analysis.