, Volume 116, Issue 1-2, pp 18-25

Leaf carbohydrate responses to CO2 enrichment at the top of a tropical forest

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The accumulation of non-structural leaf carbohydrates is one of the most consistent plant responses to elevated CO2. It has been found in both fast-and slow-growing plants and is largely independent of the duration of exposure. Changes in leaf quality are thus to be expected, irrespective of other plant responses to atmospheric CO2 enrichment. However, there is no experimental evidence from tropical forests, the biome with the largest biomass carbon pool. Here we report in situ mesophyll responses of mature tropical trees to a doubling of CO2. Individually CO2-enriched leaves on 25 to 35-m-tall forest trees living at 26–35°C can be assumed to experience little sink limitation, and so, may be expected to exhibit no or very little carbohydrate accumulation. We tested this hypothesis using the leaf cup method on leaves accessible via the canopy crane of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in a semi-deciduous tropical forest in Panamá. We also investigated the influence of the leaf-specific light regime, another possible environmental determinant of leaf carbon gain and mobile leaf carbohydrates. Total non-structural carbohydrates (TNC) reached a new steady state concentration after less than 4 days of exposure to twice ambient CO2 concentration. Against expectation, all four tree species investigated (Anacardium excelsum, Cecropia longipes, C. peltata, Ficus insipida) accumulated significant amounts of TNC (+41 to +61%) under elevated CO2. The effect was stronger at the end of the daylight period (except for Ficus), but was still significant in all four species at the end of the dark period. In contrast, neither artificial nor natural shading affected leaf TNC. Taken together, these observations suggest that TNC accumulation reflects a mesophyll-bound tissue response specific to elevated CO2, presumably unrelated to sink limitations. Thus, leaves of tropical forests seem not to be an exception, and will most likely contain more non-structural carbohydrates in a CO2-rich world.

Received: 28 January 1998 / Accepted: 9 April 1998