The seasonal trends in water use efficiency of sun and shade leaves of mature oak (Quercus robur) and sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) trees were assessed in the upper canopy of an English woodland. Intrinsic water use efficiency (net CO2 assimilation rate/leaf conductance, A/g) was measured by gas exchange and inferred from C isotope discrimination (δ13C) methods. Shade leaves had consistently lower δ13C than sun leaves (by 1–2‰), the difference being larger in sycamore. Buds had distinct sun and shade isotopic signatures before bud break and received an influx of 13C-rich C before becoming net autotrophs. After leaf full expansion, δ13C declined by 1–2‰ gradually through the season, emphasising the importance of imported carbon in the interpretation of leaf δ13C values in perennial species. There was no significant difference between the two species in the value of intrinsic water use efficiency for either sun or shade leaves. For sun leaves, season-long A/g calculated from δ13C (72–78 μmol CO2 [mol H2O]−1) was 10–16% higher than that obtained from gas exchange and in situ estimates of leaf boundary layer conductance. For shade leaves, the gas exchange–derived values were low, only 10–18% of the δ13C-derived values. This is ascribed to difficulties in obtaining a comprehensive sample of gas exchange measurements in the rapidly changing light environment
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