Functional Plant Biology Functional Plant Biology Society
Plant function and evolutionary biology

Mechanistic interpretation of carbon isotope discrimination by marine macroalgae and seagrasses

John A. Raven, Andrew M. Johnston, Janet E. Kübler, Rebecca Korb, Shona G. McInroy, Linda L. Handley, Charlie M. Scrimgeour, Diana I. Walker, John Beardall, Mathew Vanderklift, Stein Fredriksen and Kenneth H. Dunton

Functional Plant Biology 29(3) 355 - 378
Published: 20 March 2002


The literature, and previously unpublished data from the authors’ laboratories, shows that the δ13C of organic matter in marine macroalgae and seagrasses collected from the natural environment ranges from –3 to –35‰. While some marine macroalgae have δ13C values ranging over more than 10‰ within the thallus of an individual (some brown macroalgae), in other cases the range within a species collected over a very wide geographical range is only 5‰ (e.g. the red alga Plocamium cartilagineum which has values between –30 and –35‰). The organisms with very negative δ13C (lower than –30‰) are mainly subtidal red algae, with some intertidal red algae and a few green algae; those with very positive δ13C values (higher than –10‰) are mainly green macroalgae and seagrasses, with some red and brown macroalgae. The δ13C value correlates primarily with taxonomy and secondarily with ecology. None of the organisms with δ13C values lower than –30‰ have pyrenoids. Previous work showed a good correlation between δ13C values lower than –30‰ and the lack of CO2 concentrating mechanisms for several species of marine red algae. The extent to which the low δ13C values are confined to organisms with diffusive CO2 entry is discussed. Diffusive CO2 entry could also occur in organisms with higher δ13C values if diffusive conductance was relatively low. The photosynthesis of organisms with δ13C values more positive than –10‰ (i.e. more positive than the δ13C of CO2 in seawater) must involve HCO3- use.

Keywords: carbon isotope discrimination, Phaeophyceae, Rhodophyta, seagrasses, Ulvophyceae.

© CSIRO 2002

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