, Volume 167, Issue 2, pp 339-354
Date: 23 Apr 2011

Maintenance of C sinks sustains enhanced C assimilation during long-term exposure to elevated [CO2] in Mojave Desert shrubs

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During the first few years of elevated atmospheric [CO2] treatment at the Nevada Desert FACE Facility, photosynthetic downregulation was observed in desert shrubs grown under elevated [CO2], especially under relatively wet environmental conditions. Nonetheless, those plants maintained increased A sat (photosynthetic performance at saturating light and treatment [CO2]) under wet conditions, but to a much lesser extent under dry conditions. To determine if plants continued to downregulate during long-term exposure to elevated [CO2], responses of photosynthesis to elevated [CO2] were examined in two dominant Mojave Desert shrubs, the evergreen Larrea tridentata and the drought-deciduous Ambrosia dumosa, during the eighth full growing season of elevated [CO2] treatment at the NDFF. A comprehensive suite of physiological processes were collected. Furthermore, we used C labeling of air to assess carbon allocation and partitioning as measures of C sink activity. Results show that elevated [CO2] enhanced photosynthetic performance and plant water status in Larrea, especially during periods of environmental stress, but not in Ambrosia. δ13C analyses indicate that Larrea under elevated [CO2] allocated a greater proportion of newly assimilated C to C sinks than Ambrosia. Maintenance by Larrea of C sinks during the dry season partially explained the reduced [CO2] effect on leaf carbohydrate content during summer, which in turn lessened carbohydrate build-up and feedback inhibition of photosynthesis. δ13C results also showed that in a year when plant growth reached the highest rates in 5 years, 4% (Larrea) and 7% (Ambrosia) of C in newly emerging organs were remobilized from C that was assimilated and stored for at least 2 years prior to the current study. Thus, after 8 years of continuous exposure to elevated [CO2], both desert perennials maintained their photosynthetic capacities under elevated [CO2]. We conclude that C storage, remobilization, and partitioning influence the responsiveness of these desert shrubs during long-term exposure to elevated [CO2].

I. Aranjuelo and A. L. Ebbets contributed equally to this work.
Communicated by Evan DeLucia.