Chin J Plant Ecol ›› 2020, Vol. 44 ›› Issue (4): 360-372.DOI: 10.17521/cjpe.2019.0208

Special Issue: 稳定同位素生态学 生态学研究的技术和方法

• Reviews • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Tracing technology of carbon isotope and its applications to studies of carbon cycling in terrestrial ecosystem

GE Ti-Da1,*(),WANG Dong-Dong1,2,ZHU Zhen-Ke1,WEI Liang1,2,WEI Xiao-Meng1,2,WU Jin-Shui1,2   

  1. 1CAS Key Laboratory of Subtropical Agriculture Ecology, Institute of Subtropical Agriculture, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Changsha 410125, China
    2University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
  • Received:2019-08-06 Accepted:2019-10-14 Online:2020-04-20 Published:2020-01-03
  • Contact: GE Ti-Da
  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China(41430860);National Natural Science Foundation of China(41761134095);National Natural Science Foundation of China(41811540031);Natural Science Foundation of Hunan Province(2019JJ30028);Foundation Science Natural of the Groups Research Innovative of Hunan Province(2019JJ10003);Hunan Province Base for Scientific and Technological Innovation Cooperation(2018WK4012)


Recently developed in recent decades, the carbon isotope tracing technology is one of the most reliable methods, which has been widely used in the study of carbon (C) cycling in terrestrial ecosystems due to its high specificity and sensitivity. Here, the principle, analysis method and application process of C isotope tracing technology in C cycling in terrestrial ecosystem have been reviewed. Four different methods are currently being used in laboratory or field conditions, including natural abundance method, Free-Air Concentration Enrichment (FACE) technology coupling with 13C dilution method, pulse and continuous labeling with 13C enriched CO2, and labeling with 13C enriched substrates. Results of field experiments and lab incubation experiments employing carbon isotope tracing technology were combined in order to quantify the transformation and distribution of photosynthetic C in plant-soil system. Furthermore, these techniques also help to understand the contribution of plant photosynthetic C to soil organic matter, the stabilization of soil organic matter and its microbial mechanism, to illustrate the dynamic changes of soil organic carbon (SOC), evaluate the contribution of new and old organic C to soil C storage, and estimate the micromechanism of SOC input, conversion and the stabilization in terrestrial ecosystems. Carbon cycle is affected by climate, vegetation, human activities and other factors, and therefore it is imperative to further develop a sensitive, accurate, multiscale and multidirectional isotope tracing system by combining carbon isotopes with mass spectrometry, spectroscopy and molecular biological technology. We have summarized the coupled application of carbon isotope tracing technology and the insitu detection involving molecular and biological approaches, and discussed the existing issues of carbon isotope tracing technology.

Key words: terrestrial ecosystem, soil organic matter, carbon cycle, carbon isotope tracing technology, stable carbon isotope probe technology