, Volume 279, Issue 1-2, pp 219-228

Root Biomass of Individual Species, and Root Size Characteristics After Five Years of CO2 Enrichment on Native Shortgrass Steppe

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Abstract

Information from field studies investigating the responses of roots to increasing atmospheric CO2 is limited and somewhat inconsistent, due partly to the difficulty in studying root systems in situ. In this report, we present standing root biomass of species and root length and diameter after five years of CO2 enrichment (∽720 μmol mol−1) in large (16 m2 ground area) open-top chambers placed over a native shortgrass steppe in Colorado, USA. Total root biomass in 100 cm long×20 cm wide×75 cm depth soil monoliths and root biomass of the three dominant grass species of the site were not significantly affected by elevated CO2. Root biomass of Stipa comata in the 0–20 cm soil depth was nearly 100% greater in elevated vs. ambient CO2 chambers, but this was not statistically significant (P=0.14). However, there was a significant 37% increase in fine root length under elevated CO2 in the 0–10 cm soil depth layer. Other reports from this study suggest that the increase in fine roots is primarily from improved seedling recruitment of S. comata under elevated CO2. Few treatment differences in root length or diameter were detected in lower 10 cm depth increments, to 80 cm. These results reflect the root status integrated over two wet, two dry and one normal precipitation years and approximately one complete cycle of root turn-over on the shortgrass steppe. We conclude that increasing atmospheric CO2 will have only small effects on standing root biomass and root length and diameter of most shortgrasss steppe species. However, the potential increased competitive ability of Stipa comata, a low forage quality species, could alter the ecosystem from the current dominant, high forage quality species, Bouteloua gracilis. B. gracilis is very well adapted to the frequent droughts of the shortgrass steppe. Increased competitive ability of less desirable plant species under increasing atmospheric CO2 will have large implications for long-term sustainability of grassland ecosystems.