Mesophyll conductance significantly, and variably, limits photosynthesis but we currently have no reliable method of measurement for C4 plants.
An online oxygen isotope technique was developed to allow quantification of mesophyll conductance in C4 plants and to provide an alternative estimate in C3 plants. The technique is compared to an established carbon isotope method in three C3 species.
Mesophyll conductance of C4 species was similar to that in the C3 species measured, and declined in both C4 and C3 species as leaves aged from fully expanded to senescing. In cotton leaves, simultaneous measurement of carbon and oxygen isotope discrimination allowed the partitioning of total conductance to the chloroplasts into cell wall and plasma membrane versus chloroplast membrane components, if CO2 was assumed to be isotopically equilibrated with cytosolic water, and the partitioning remained stable with leaf age.
The oxygen isotope technique allowed estimation of mesophyll conductance in C4 plants and, when combined with well-established carbon isotope techniques, may provide additional information on mesophyll conductance in C3 plants.