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Contribution of new photosynthetic assimilates to respiration by perennial grasses and shrubs: residence times and allocation patterns


Quantification of the fate of carbon (C) used by plant metabolism is necessary to improve predictions of terrestrial ecosystem respiration and its sources. Here, a dual isotope ((13)C and (14)C) pulse-label was used to determine the allocation of new C to different respiratory pathways in the early and late growing seasons for two plant functional types, perennial grasses and shrubs, in the Owens Valley, CA, USA. Allocation differences between plant types exceeded seasonal allocation variation. Grasses respired 71 and 64% and shrubs respired 22 and 17% of the label below-ground in the early and late growing seasons, respectively. Across seasons and plant types, approximately 48-61% of the label recovered was respired in 24 h, approximately 68-84% in 6 d, and approximately 16-33% in 6-36 d after labeling. Three C pools were identified for plant metabolism: a fast pool with mean residence times (MRTs) of approximately 0.5 and approximately 1 d below- and above-ground, respectively; an intermediate pool with MRTs of 19.9 and 18.9 d; and a storage pool detected in new leaf early growing season respiration > 9 months after assimilation. Differences in allocation to fast vs intermediate C pools resulted in the mean age of C respired by shrubs being shorter (3.8-4.5 d) than that of the grasses (4.8-8.2 d).

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