, Volume 94, Issue 4, pp 550-557

Limitations to CO2-induced growth enhancement in pot studies

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Abstract

Recently, it has been suggested that small pots may reduce or eliminate plant responses to enriched CO2 atmospheres due to root restriction. While smaller pot volumes provide less physical space available for root growth, they also provide less nutrients. Reduced nutrient availability alone may reduce growth enhancement under elevated CO2. To investigate the relative importance of limited physical rooting space separate from and in conjunction with soil nutrients, we grew plants at ambient and double-ambient CO2 levels in growth containers of varied volume, shape, nutrient concentration, and total nutrient content. Two species (Abutilon theophrasti, a C3 dicot with a deep tap root andSetaria faberii, a C4 monocot with a shallow diffuse root system) were selected for their contrasting physiology and root architecture. Shoot demography was determined weekly and biomass was determined after eight and ten weeks of growth. Increasing total nutrients, either by increasing nutrient concentration or by increasing pot size, increased plant growth. Further, increasing pot size while maintaining equal total nutrients per pot resulted in increased total biomass for both species. CO2-induced growth and reproductive yield enhancements were greatest in pots with high nutrient concentrations, regardless of total nutrient content or pot size, and were also mediated by the shape of the pot. CO2-induced growth and reproductive yield enhancements were unaffected by pot size (growth) or were greater in small pots (reproductive yield), regardless of total nutrient content, contrary to predictions based on earlier studies. These results suggest that several aspects of growth conditions within pots may influence the CO2 responses of plants; pot size, pot shape, the concentration and total amount of nutrient additions to pots may lead to over-or underestimates of the CO2 responses of real-world plants.