, Volume 106, Issue 2, pp 172-180

Effects of elevated CO2 and increased nitrogen deposition on photosynthesis and growth of understory plants in spruce model ecosystems

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Abstract

We studied the effects of atmospheric CO2 enrichment (280, 420 and 560 μl CO2 l−1) and increased N deposition (0,30 and 90 kg ha−1 year−1) on the spruce-forest understory species Oxalis acetosella, Homogyne alpina and Rubus hirtus. Clones of these species formed the ground cover in nine 0.7 m2 model ecosystems with 5-year-old Picea abies trees (leaf area index of approx 2.2). Communities grew on natural forest soil in a simulated montane climate. Independently of N deposition, the rate of light-saturated net photosynthesis of leaves grown and measured at 420 μl CO2 l−1 was higher in Oxalis and in Homogyne, but was not significantly different in Rubus compared to leaves grown and measured at the pre-industrial CO2 concentration of 280 μl l−1. Remarkably, further CO2 enrichment to 560 μl l−1 caused no additional increase of CO2 uptake. With increasing CO2 supply concentrations of non-structural carbohydrates in leaves increased and N concentrations decreased in all species, whereas N deposition had no significant effect on these traits. Above-ground biomass and leaf area production were not significantly affected by elevated CO2 in the more vigorously growing species O. acetosella and R. hirtus, but the “slow growing” H. alpina produced almost twice as much biomass and 50% more leaf area per plant under 420 μl CO2 l−1 compared to 280 μl l−1 (again no further stimulation at 560 μl l−1). In contrast, increased N addition stimulated growth in Oxalis and Rubus but had no effect on Homogyne. In Oxalis (only) biomass per plant was positively correlated with microhabitat quantum flux density at low CO2, but not at high CO2 indicating carbon saturation. On the other hand, the less shade-tolerant Homogyne profited from CO2 enrichment at all understory light levels facilitating its spread into more shady micro-habitats under elevated CO2. These species-specific responses to CO2 and N deposition will affect community structure. The non-linear responses to elevated CO2 of several of the traits studied here suggest that the largest responses to rising atmospheric CO2 are under way now or have already occurred and possible future responses to further increases in CO2 concentration are likely to be much smaller in these understory species.