Cellulose (delta)18O is an index of leaf-to-air vapor pressure difference (VPD) in tropical plants
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Pages / Article-Number
Cellulose in plants contains oxygen that derives in most cases from precipitation. Because the stable oxygen isotope composition, δ(18)O, of precipitation is associated with environmental conditions, cellulose δ(18)O should be as well. However, plant physiological models using δ(18)O suggest that cellulose δ(18)O is influenced by a complex mix of both climatic and physiological drivers. This influence complicates the interpretation of cellulose δ(18)O values in a paleo-context. Here, we combined empirical data analyses with mechanistic model simulations to i) quantify the impacts that the primary climatic drivers humidity (e(a)) and air temperature (T(air)) have on cellulose δ(18)O values in different tropical ecosystems and ii) determine which environmental signal is dominating cellulose δ(18)O values. Our results revealed that e(a) and T(air) equally influence cellulose δ(18)O values and that distinguishing which of these factors dominates the δ(18)O values of cellulose cannot be accomplished in the absence of additional environmental information. However, the individual impacts of e(a) and T(air) on the δ(18)O values of cellulose can be integrated into a single index of plant-experienced atmospheric vapor demand: the leaf-to-air vapor pressure difference (VPD). We found a robust relationship between VPD and cellulose δ(18)O values in both empirical and modeled data in all ecosystems that we investigated. Our analysis revealed therefore that δ(18)O values in plant cellulose can be used as a proxy for VPD in tropical ecosystems. As VPD is an essential variable that determines the biogeochemical dynamics of ecosystems, our study has applications in ecological-, climate-, or forensic-sciences.