, Volume 93, Issue 2, pp 195–200

Elevated CO2 and plant nitrogen-use: is reduced tissue nitrogen concentration size-dependent?


  • J. S. Coleman
    • Biological Research LaboratoriesSyracuse University
    • The Biological LaboratoriesHarvard University
  • K. D. M. McConnaughay
    • The Biological LaboratoriesHarvard University
  • F. A. Bazzaz
    • The Biological LaboratoriesHarvard University
Original Papers

DOI: 10.1007/BF00317671

Cite this article as:
Coleman, J.S., McConnaughay, K.D.M. & Bazzaz, F.A. Oecologia (1993) 93: 195. doi:10.1007/BF00317671


Plants often respond to elevated atmospheric CO2 levels with reduced tissue nitrogen concentrations relative to ambient CO2-grown plants when comparisons are made at a common time. Another common response to enriched CO2 atmospheres is an acceleration in plant growth rates. Because plant nitrogen concentrations are often highest in seedlings and subsequently decrease during growth, comparisons between ambient and elevated CO2-grown plants made at a common time may not demonstrate CO2-induced reductions in plant nitrogen concentration per se. Rather, this comparison may be highlighting differences in nitrogen concentration between bigger, more developed plants and smaller, less developed plants. In this study, we directly examined whether elevated CO2 environments reduce plant nitrogen concentrations independent of changes in plant growth rates. We grew two annual plant species. Abutilon theophrasti (C3 photosynthetic pathway) and Amaranthus retroflexus (C4 photosynthetic pathway), from seed in glass-sided growth chambers with atmospheric CO2 levels of 350 μmol·mol−1 or 700 μmol·mol−1 and with high or low fertilizer applications. Individual plants were harvested every 2 days starting 3 days after germination to determine plant biomass and nitrogen concentration. We found: 1. High CO2-grown plants had reduced nitrogen concentrations and increased biomass relative to ambient CO2-grown plants when compared at a common time; 2. Tissue nitrogen concentrations did not vary as a function of CO2 level when plants were compared at a common size; and 3. The rate of biomass accumulation per rate of increase in plant nitrogen was unaffected by CO2 availability, but was altered by nutrient availability. These results indicate that a CO2-induced reduction in plant nitrogen concentration may not be due to physiological changes in plant nitrogen use efficiency, but is probably a size-dependent phenomenon resulting from accelerated plant growth.

Key words

AllometryC/N BalanceGlobal changeNitrogen-use efficiencyPhysiological adjustments

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1993