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Environmental influences on the stable carbon isotopic composition of Devonian and Early Carboniferous land plants

Wan, Zhenzhu, Algeo, Thomas J., Gensel, Patricia G., Scheckler, Stephen E., Stein, William E., Cressler, Walter L., Berry, Christopher M., Xu, Honghe, Rowe, Harold D., Sauer, Peter E.
Palaeogeography, palaeoclimatology, palaeoecology 2019 pp. 109100
C3 plants, Carboniferous period, Devonian period, basins, data collection, embryophytes, fossils, habitat preferences, habitats, humidity, leaves, paleoclimatology, stable isotopes, stems, terrestrial ecosystems, water use efficiency
Systematic analysis of the stable carbon isotopic composition of fossil land plants (δ13Cp) has the potential to offer new insights regarding paleoclimate variation and plant-environment interactions in early terrestrial ecosystems. δ13Cp was measured for 190 fossil plant specimens belonging to 10 genera of Early to Late Devonian age (Archaeopteris, Drepanophycus, Haskinsia, Leclercqia, Pertica, Psilophyton, Rhacophyton, Sawdonia, Tetraxylopteris, and Wattieza) and 2 genera of Early Carboniferous age (Genselia and Rhodeopteridium) collected from sites located mainly in the Appalachian Basin (22–30°S paleolatitude). For the full carbon-isotopic dataset (n = 309), δ13Cp ranges from −20.3‰ to −30.5‰ with a mean of −25.5‰, similar to values for modern C3 land plants. In addition to a secular trend, δ13Cp exhibits both intra- and intergeneric variation. Intrageneric variation is expressed as a small (mean 0.45‰) 13C-enrichment of leaves and spines relative to stems that may reflect differential compound-specific compositions. Intergeneric variation is expressed as a much larger (to ~5‰) spread in the mean δ13Cp values of coeval plant genera that was probably controlled by taxon-specific habitat preferences and local environmental humidity. Among Early Devonian taxa, Sawdonia yielded the most 13C-depleted values (−27.1 ± 1.7‰), reflecting lower water-use efficiency that was probably related to growth in wetter habitats, and Leclercqia, Haskinsia, and Psilophyton yielded the most 13C-enriched values (−23.0 ± 1.6‰, −22.3 ± 1.3‰, and −24.8 ± 1.6‰, respectively), reflecting higher water-use efficiency probably related to growth in drier habitats.