Skip to main content Accessibility help

Welcome to the C4 World

  • Thure E. Cerling (a1) (a2) and James R. Ehleringer (a2)


There are two principal mechanisms of photosynthesis amongst the plants of the world. One produces a 3-carbon compound as the primary photosynthate and is called C3 photosynthesis. The other produces a 4-carbon compound as its primary photosynthate and is called C4 photosynthesis. This latter method is of rather recent origin, and its inception had important consequences for the flora and fauna of the world. The C4 plants make up a significant portion of global net primary productivity, especially in low latitudes. C4 plants are predominantly warm-season grasses, while C3 plants include most dicotyledons and cool-season monocotyledons. In this review we answer the questions about how C4 photosynthesis differs from C3 photosynthesis, where C4 plants are found, and review the paleoecological history of C4 photosynthesis.



Hide All
Bender, M. M. 1968. Mass spectrometric studies of carbon-13 variations in corn and other grasses. Radiocarbon, 10: 468472.
Cerling, T. E. 1984. The stable isotopic composition of modern soil carbonate and its relationship to climate. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 71: 229240.
Cerling, T. E. 1999. Paleorecords of C4 plants and ecosystems, p. 445469. In Sage, R. F. and Monson, R. K. (eds.), C4 Plant Biology. Academic Press., San Diego.
Cerling, T. E., MacFadden, B. J., Leakey, M.G., Quade, J., Eisenmann, V., and Ehleringer, J. R. 1997. Global vegetation change through the Miocene and Pliocene. Nature, 389: 153158.
Cerling, T. E., MacFadden, B. J., Leakey, M.G., Quade, J., Eisenmann, V., and Ehleringer, J. R. 1999. Carbon isotope fractionation between diet and bioapatite in ungulate mammals and implications for ecological and paleoecological studies. Oecologia, 120: 347363.
Chapman, G. P. 1996. The Biology of Grasses. CAB International, Wallingford. 274 p.
Chapman, G. P. and Peat, W. E. 1992. An Introduction to the Grasses. CAB International, Wallingford. 111 p.
Collatz, G. J., Berry, J. A., and Clark, J. S. 1998. Effects of climate and atmospheric CO2 partial pressure on the global distribution of C4 grasses: present, past and future. Oecologia, 114: 441454.
Craig, H., 1954. Carbon-13 in plants and the relationships between carbon-13 and carbon-14 variations in nature. Journal of Geology, 62: 115149.
Dengler, N. G. and Nelson, T. 1999. Leaf structure and development in C4 plants, p. 133172. In Sage, R. F. and Monson, R. K. (eds.), C4 Plant Biology. Academic Press., San Diego.
Dugas, D. P. and Retallack, G. J. 1993. Middle Miocene fossil grasses from Fort Ternan, Kenya. Journal of Paleontology, 67: 113128.
Ehleringer, J. R. 1978. Implications of quantum yield differences on the distribution of C3 and C4 grasses. Oecologia, 31:255267.
Ehleringer, J. R., and Cooper, T. A. 1988. Correlations between carbon isotope ratio and microhabitat in desert plants. Oecologia, 76, 562566.
Ehleringer, J. R., Cerling, T. E., and Helliker, B. R. 1997. C4 photosynthesis, atmospheric CO2, and climate. Oecologia, 112,285299.
Farquhar, G. D., O'Leary, M. H., and Berry, J. A. 1982. On the relationship between carbon isotope discrimination and the intercellular carbon dioxide concentration in leaves. Australian Journal of Plant Physiology, 9:121137.
Haberlandt, G. 1884. Physiological Plant Anatomy. Macmillon, New Yorkm 777 p.
Hatch, M. D., and Slack, C. R. 1966. Photosynthesis in sugarcane leaves: a new carboxylation reaction and the pathway of sugar formation. Biochemical Journal, 103111.
Hattersley, P. W. 1982. 13C values of C4 types in grasses. Australian journal of Plant Physiology, 9: 139154.
Hattersley, P. W. 1992. C4 photosynthetic pathway variation in grasses (Poaceae): its significance for arid and semi-arid lands, p. 181212. In Desertified Grasslands: Their Biology and Management., The Linnean Society of London, London.
Jorden, D. B. and Ogren, W. L. 1984. The CO2/O2 specificity of the ribulose-1,5-biphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase dependence on ribulosebiphosphate concentrations, pH, and temperature. Planta, 21:309313.
Kanai, R., and Edwards, G. E. 1999. The biochemistry of C4 photosynthesis, p. 4987. In Age, R. F., and Monson, R. K. (eds), C4 Plant Biology. Academic Press, San Diego.
Kortschak, H. P., Hartt, C. E., and Burr, G. O. 1965. Carbon dioxide fixation in sugarcane leaves. Plant Physiology, 40:209213.
Macfadden, B. J. 1992. Fossil Horses: Systematics, Paleobiology, and Evolution of the Family Equidae. Cambridge University Press. 369 p.
Ode, D. J., Tieszen, L.L., and Lerman, C. J. 1980. The seasonal contribution of C3 and C4 plant species to primary production in a mixed prairie. Ecology, 61: 13041311.
Pagani, M., Arthur, M. A., and Freeman, K. H. 1999a. Miocene evolution of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Paleoceanography, 14: 273292.
Pagani, M., Arthur, M. A., Freeman, K. H., and Arthur, M. A. 1999b. Late Miocene atmospheric CO2 concentrations and the expansion of C4 grasses. Science, 285: 876879.
P'Yankov, V. I. 1997. C4-species of high-mountain deserts of eastern Pamir. Russian Journal of Ecology, 24:156160.
Quade, J., Cerling, T. E., and Bowman, J. R. 1989. Development of Asian monsoon revealed by marked ecological shift during the latest Miocene in Northern Pakistan. Nature, 342:163166.
Sage, R. F., and Monson, R. K. (eds.). 1999. C4 Plant Biology. Academic Press, San Diego, 596.
Sage, R. F., Li, M., and Monson, R. K. 1999a. The taxonomic distribution of C4 photosynthesis. In Sage, R. F. and Monson, R. K. (eds.), C4 Plant Biology. Academic Press., San Diego, p. 551584.
Sage, R. F., Wedin, D.A., and Li, M. 1999b. The biogeography of C4 photosynthesis: patterns and controlling factors, p. 313373. In Sage, R. F. and Monson, R. K. (eds.), C4 Plant Biology. Academic Press, San Diego.
Shantz, H. L. and Piemeisel, L. N. 1927. The water requirements of plants at Akron Colorado. Journal of Agricultural Research, 34: 10931189.
Teeri, J. A. and Stowe, L. G. 1976. Climatic patterns and the distribution of C4 grasses in North America. Oecologia, 23: 112.
Tidwell, W. D., and Nambudiri, E. M. V. 1989. Tomlinsonia thomassonii, gen. et sp. nov., a permineralized grass from the Upper Miocene Ricardo Formation, California. Reviews of Paleobotany and Palynology, 60: 165177.
Van Der Merwe, N. J., and Medina, E. 1989. Photosynthesis and 13C/12C ratios in Amazonian rain forests. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 53, 10911094.
Vogel, J. C., Fuls, A., and Ellis, R. P. 1978. The geographical distribution of Kranz grasses in South Africa. South African Journal of Science, 74, 209215.
Wickman, F. E. 1952. Variations in the relative abundance of the carbon isotopes in plants. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 2:243252.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO

Welcome to the C4 World

  • Thure E. Cerling (a1) (a2) and James R. Ehleringer (a2)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.