GSA Annual Meeting in Seattle, Washington, USA - 2017

Paper No. 97-5
Presentation Time: 9:00 AM


SHELDON, Nathan D., Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Michigan, 1100 N University Ave, Ann Arbor, MI 48109 and SMITH, Selena Y., Museum of Paleontology and Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences, University of Michigan, 2534 CC Little, 1100 N. University Avenue, Ann Arbor, MI 48109,

Foundational work on the meaning of plant carbon isotope values has been ongoing for decades. Recently, meta-analyses of C3 plants identified relationships between δ13Cplant or Δleaf13Catmosphere - δ13Cplant) and mean annual precipitation and temperature (MAP, MAT), altitude, plant-functional type, and latitude. However, most of those relationships may be too coarse to be applied quantitatively to the geologic record, much of the work has assumed that biochemistry is more important than evolution, and that universal relationships can be derived for all plants that use a given photosynthetic pathway. A number of these foundational assumptions will be tested herein using a series of vignettes that focus on modern isotope ecology of gymnosperms that have extensive Cenozoic fossil records. First, the relationship between δ13Cplant and MAP is investigated using both Ginkgo biloba across a wide range of sites globally and using evergreen conifers across a regional precipitation gradient; both types of plants have extenive fossil records and neither follows the “global” meta-relationships between δ13Cplant and MAP, wth Ginkgo exhibiting a weaker response and the conifers a stronger response. Secondly, 63 conifer species (15 genera) grown under the same natural environmental conditions exhibit small ranges (±1‰) between individuals of the same species but a large range of up to 8‰ in their Δleaf values between genera. The Δleaf differences between genera correlate strongly with phylogenetic distance, indicating that there is an evolutionary component to Δleaf, and calling into question the assumption of universal δ13Cplant-climate relationships. Third, historic records (last ~150 years) of two Thuja species show changes in leaf economics over the period of Industrialization, but constant Δleaf as well as δ13Cplant changes comparable to the Suess effect, suggesting that they are accurate recorders of δ13Catmosphere, and potentially, that single species can be used as quantitative recorders of water availability. Thus, interpeting δ13Cplant values in the geologic record accurately requires some understanding of plant identity/evolutionary history. Taking this into account will allow for more accurate paleoclimatic and paleoenvironmental reconstructions using carbon isotopes of fossil plants.