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The Rapateaceae is a small, mainly Neotropical family of terrestrial or occasionally epiphytic herbs that grow on mesic, nutrient-poor sites. Some recent studies suggest that the Rapateaceae may be closely related to the Bromeliaceae, one of the major families containing CAM plants. To investigate the photosynthetic pathway in Rapateaceae, the plant carbon-isotope ratio (δ13C) was determined for samples from dried herbarium specimens for 85 of the approximately 100 species in the family. The δ13C values ranged from -37.7 to -19.8 ‰. Most Rapateaceae showed δ13C values typical of C3 plants. However, six species (Kunhardtia rhodantha Maguire, Marahuacaea schomburgkii (Maguire) Maguire, Soxofridericia compressa Maguire, Stegolepis grandis Maguire, St. guianensis Klotzsch ex Körn and St. squarrosa Maguire) showed δ13C values less negative than -23 ‰, i.e., at the higher end of the range for C3 plants and at the lower end of the distribution for plants exhibiting CAM. The δ13C values became significantly less negative with increasing altitude (regression analysis indicating a change from about -30.7 ‰ at sea level to -22.5 ‰ at 2500 m). Although other environmental factors and the type of tissue analysed may also influence δ13C values, these results suggest that some Rapateaceae may be capable of performing CAM. Further studies, including measurements of diel gas exchange patterns and leaf organic-acid fluctuations, would be needed to demonstrate CAM in Rapateaceae unequivocally, but living material of many of these enigmatic plants is difficult to obtain.

Original publication




Journal article


Plant Biology

Publication Date





569 - 576