The stable isotope ecology of terrestrial plant succession


We review the relevance and use of stable isotopes for the study of plant community succession. Stable isotope measurements provide information on the origin of resources acquired by plants, the processes governing resource uptake and transformation, and the physiological and environmental conditions of plant growth. When combined with measurements of the stable isotope ratio values of soil microbial biomass, soil organic matter and plant litter, isotope measurements of plants can indicate effects of successional changes on ecosystem processes. However, their application to questions of plant succession and ecosystem change is limited by the degree to which the underlying assumptions are met in each study, and complementary measures may be required, depending upon the question of interest. First, we discuss the changes that occur in the stable isotope composition of plants and ecosystems with ontogeny and species replacements, as well as their potential evolutionary significance. Second, we discuss the imprints of plant competition and facilitation on leaf and wood tissue, as well as how stable isotopes can provide novel insights on the mechanisms underlying plant interactions. Finally, we discuss the capacity for stable isotope measurements to serve as a proxy record for past disturbances such as fire, logging and cyclones.