The relationship between grain yield and carbon isotope discrimination (?) was analysed in wheat grown under different water regimes in the Ningxia Province (north-west of China). When the association was significant, the relationships between grain yield, ? and other drought tolerance related traits, such as leaf ash content (ma), chlorophyll concentration (Chl), relative water content (RWC), stomatal conductance (gS) and the ratio of internal CO2 leaf concentration to ambient CO2 concentration (Ci/Ca), were also examined. Using correlation analysis, the relationships were determined during two consecutive years in a set of 20 spring wheat cultivars (landraces, improved varieties and advanced lines) under rainfed and irrigated conditions, including saline conditions. The relationship between ? and yield within environments highly depended on the quantity of water stored in the soil at sowing, the quantity and distribution of rainfall during the growth cycle, and the irrigation before anthesis. ? predicted grain yield under limited irrigation (post-anthesis water stress) but not under pre-anthesis water stress (rainfed conditions), fully irrigated and saline conditions. Under limited irrigation, grain ? correlated significantly to grain yield leaf ma at heading and maturity. It also significantly positively correlated to Chl, RWC, gS and Ci/Ca assessed at anthesis. A precise characterization of the timing and intensity of the abiotic constraints experienced by the crop is consequently needed before implementing the use of ? in wheat breeding programmes.