Upward transport of CO₂ via the transpiration stream from belowground to aboveground tissues occurs in tree stems. Despite potentially important implications for our understanding of plant physiology, the fate of internally transported CO₂ derived from autotrophic respiratory processes remains unclear. We infused a ¹³CO₂-labeled aqueous solution into the base of 7-yr-old field-grown eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides) trees to investigate the effect of xylem-transported CO₂ derived from the root system on aboveground carbon assimilation and CO₂ efflux. The ¹³C label was transported internally and detected throughout the tree. Up to 17% of the infused label was assimilated, while the remainder diffused to the atmosphere via stem and branch efflux. The largest amount of assimilated ¹³C was found in branch woody tissues, while only a small quantity was assimilated in the foliage. Petioles were more highly enriched in ¹³C than other leaf tissues. Our results confirm a recycling pathway for respired CO₂ and indicate that internal transport of CO₂ from the root system may confound the interpretation of efflux-based estimates of woody tissue respiration and patterns of carbohydrate allocation.
© 2012 The Authors. New Phytologist © 2012 New Phytologist Trust.