Shifts in bryophyte carbon isotope ratio across an elevation × soil age matrix on Mauna Loa, Hawaii: do bryophytes behave like vascular plants?

PMID 21279387


The carbon isotope ratio (δ(13)C) of vascular plant leaf tissue is determined by isotope discrimination, primarily mediated by stomatal and mesophyll diffusion resistances and by photosynthetic rate. These effects lead to predictable trends in leaf δ(13)C across natural gradients of elevation, irradiance and nutrient supply. Less is known about shifts in δ(13)C for bryophytes at landscape scale, as bryophytes lack stomata in the dominant gametophyte phase, and thus lack active control over CO(2) diffusion. Twelve bryophyte species were sampled across a matrix of elevation and soil ages on Mauna Loa, Hawaii Island. We tested hypotheses based on previous findings for vascular plants, which tend to have less negative δ(13)C at higher elevations or irradiances, and for leaves with higher leaf mass per area (LMA). Across the matrix, bryophytes spanned the range of δ(13)C values typical of C(3) vascular plants. Bryophytes were remarkably similar to vascular plants in exhibiting less negative δ(13)C with increasing elevation, and with lower overstory cover; additionally δ(13)C was related to bryophyte canopy projected mass per area, a trait analogous to LMA in vascular plants, also correlated negatively with overstory cover. The similarity of responses of δ(13)C in bryophytes and vascular plants to environmental factors, despite differing morphologies and diffusion pathways, points to a strong direct role of photosynthetic rate in determining δ(13)C variation at the landscape scale.