Carbon stable isotopic composition of soluble sugars in Tillandsia epiphytes varies in response to shifts in habitat.
We studied C stable isotopic composition (delta(13)C) of bulk leaf tissue and extracted sugars of four epiphytic Tillandsia species to investigate flexibility in the use of crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) and C(3) photosynthetic pathways. Plants growing in two seasonally dry tropical forest reserves in Mexico that differ in annual precipitation were measured during wet and dry seasons, and among secondary, mature, and wetland forest types within each site. Dry season sugars were more enriched in (13)C than wet season sugars, but there was no seasonal difference in bulk tissues. Bulk tissue delta(13)C differed by species and by forest type, with values from open-canopied wetlands more enriched in (13)C than mature or secondary forest types. The shifts within forest habitat were related to temporal and spatial changes in vapor pressure deficits (VPD). Modeling results estimate a possible 4% increase in the proportional contribution of the C(3) pathway during the wet season, emphasizing that any seasonal or habitat-mediated variation in photosynthetic pathway appears to be quite moderate and within the range of isotopic effects caused by variation in stomatal conductance during assimilation through the C(3) pathway and environmental variation in VPD. C isotopic analysis of sugars together with bulk leaf tissue offers a useful approach for incorporating short- and long-term measurements of C isotope discrimination during photosynthesis.
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