A growing number of studies have described the direct absorption of water into leaves, a phenomenon known as foliar water uptake. The resultant increase in the amount of water in the leaf can be important for plant function. Exposing leaves to isotopically enriched or depleted water sources has become a common method for establishing whether or not a plant is capable of carrying out foliar water uptake. However, a careful inspection of our understanding of the fluxes of water isotopes between leaves and the atmosphere under high humidity conditions shows that there can clearly be isotopic exchange between the two pools even in the absence of a change in the mass of water in the leaf. We provide experimental evidence that while leaf water isotope ratios may change following exposure to a fog event using water with a depleted oxygen isotope ratio, leaf mass only changes when leaves are experiencing a water deficit that creates a driving gradient for the uptake of water by the leaf. Studies that rely on stable isotopes of water as a means of studying plant water use, particularly with respect to foliar water uptake, must consider the effects of these isotopic exchange processes.
Goldsmith, G.R., M.M. Lehmann, L.A. Cernusak, M. Arend & R.T.W. Siegwolf. 2017. Inferring foliar water uptake using stable isotopes of water. Oecologia 184: 763-766.