Stable isotope approaches and opportunities for improving plant conservation

Publication Name

Conservation Physiology


Successful conservation of threatened species and ecosystems in a rapidly changing world requires scientifically sound decision-making tools that are readily accessible to conservation practitioners. Physiological applications that examine how plants and animals interact with their environment are now widely used when planning, implementing and monitoring conservation. Among these tools, stable-isotope physiology is a potentially powerful, yet under-utilized cornerstone of current and future conservation efforts of threatened and endangered plants. We review the underlying concepts and theory of stable-isotope physiology and describe how stable-isotope applications can support plant conservation. We focus on stable isotopes of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen to address plant ecophysiological responses to changing environmental conditions across temporal scales from hours to centuries. We review examples from a broad range of plant taxa, life forms and habitats and provide specific examples where stable-isotope analysis can directly improve conservation, in part by helping identify resilient, locally adapted genotypes or populations. Our review aims to provide a guide for practitioners to easily access and evaluate the information that can be derived from stable-isotope signatures, their limitations and how stable isotopes can improve conservation efforts.

Open Access Status

This publication is not available as open access





Article Number




Link to publisher version (DOI)