The study of intra-specific variations in growth and plant physiological response to drought is crucial to understand the potential for plant adaptation to global change. Carbon isotope composition (delta C-13) in plant tissues offers an integrated measure of intrinsic water-use efficiency (WUEi). The intra-specific association between delta C-13 and productivity has been extensively studied in herbaceous crops, but species specific information on woody plants is still limited and has so far provided contradictory results. In this work we explored the general patterns of the relationship between delta C-13 and growth traits (height, diameter and biomass) using a meta-analysis. We compiled information from 49 articles, including 176 studies performed on 34 species from 16 genera. We found a positive global intra-specific correlation between delta C-13 and growth (Gr = 0.28, P < 0.0001), stronger for biomass than for height, and non-significant for diameter. The extent of this intra-specific association increased from Mediterranean to subtropical, temperate and boreal biomes, i.e. from water-limited to energy-limited environments. Conifers and shrubs, but not broadleaves, showed consistent positive intra-specific correlations. The meta-analysis also revealed that the relationship between delta C-13 and growth is better characterized at juvenile stages, under near-optimal and controlled conditions, and by analyzing delta C-13 in leaves rather than in wood. (C) 2016 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.