Leaf metabolic and morphological responses of dwarf willow (Salix herbacea) in the sub-arctic to the past 9000 years of global environmental change

D. J. Beerling, M. Rundgren

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (SciVal)


Ice-core records of the concentration of atmospheric CO2 and its stable isotope ratio (δ13C(a)) have shown that the global C cycle has not remained in steady-state over the past 11000 yr, implying a possible change in vegetation activity over this period. Here we evaluated the ecophysiological responses of the dwarf willow (Salix herbacea) over the past 9000 yr by measuring the stable carbon isotope composition and stomatal characters of a unique, well dated, high-latitude (68°N) sub-fossil leaf sequence. After correction for corresponding changes in δ13C(a), 9000-yr record of variations in the ratio of intercellular (c(j)) to atmospheric (c(a)) CO2 concentration was established. Intercellular: atmospheric CO2 concentration ratios provide a time-integrated indicator of the set-point of leaf gas exchange, and the historical variations revealed in this record have been interpreted as an impact of environmental changes on leaf gas exchange. The sequence shows a progressive fall in c(i)/c(a) 9000-3000 yr BP as well as the climatic effects of the Medieval Warm Period, the Little Ice Age and the post-industrial CO2 rise. Leaf stomatal index (proportion of epidermal cells as stomata), but not stomatal density, was significantly (P <0.01) correlated with Holocene atmospheric CO2 variations. A process-based interpretation of the changes in c(i)/c(a) was made using two different coupled photosynthesis-stomatal conductance models. Calculated in this way, S. herbacea photosynthetic rates were relatively stable throughout the Holocene whilst stomatal conductance progressively declined. Both, however, showed the marked effects of the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age. Overall, the results demonstrate that S. herbacea leaf metabolism, like the global C cycle, has not remained in steady state during the Holocene but has responded to changes in atmospheric CO2 concentration and short-term climatic oscillations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)257-269
Number of pages13
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2000 Feb 1

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Climate Research
  • Environmental Sciences
  • Geology


  • Atmospheric CO
  • Leaf gas exchange
  • Modelling
  • Stable carbon isotopes
  • Stomata
  • Sub-fossil leaves


Dive into the research topics of 'Leaf metabolic and morphological responses of dwarf willow (Salix herbacea) in the sub-arctic to the past 9000 years of global environmental change'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this