Estuaries and Coasts

, Volume 35, Issue 4, pp 1028-1035

First online:

C3 and C4 Biomass Allocation Responses to Elevated CO2 and Nitrogen: Contrasting Resource Capture Strategies

  • K. P. WhiteAffiliated withDepartments of Forest Ecology and Biogeosciences, and Statistical Science, University of Idaho
  • , J. A. LangleyAffiliated withSmithsonian Environmental Research CenterBiology Department, Villanova University Email author 
  • , D. R. CahoonAffiliated withUS Geological Survey, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
  • , J. P. MegonigalAffiliated withSmithsonian Environmental Research Center Email author 

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


Plants alter biomass allocation to optimize resource capture. Plant strategy for resource capture may have important implications in intertidal marshes, where soil nitrogen (N) levels and atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) are changing. We conducted a factorial manipulation of atmospheric CO2 (ambient and ambient + 340 ppm) and soil N (ambient and ambient + 25 g m−2 year−1) in an intertidal marsh composed of common North Atlantic C3 and C4 species. Estimation of C3 stem turnover was used to adjust aboveground C3 productivity, and fine root productivity was partitioned into C3–C4 functional groups by isotopic analysis. The results suggest that the plants follow resource capture theory. The C3 species increased aboveground productivity under the added N and elevated CO2 treatment (P < 0.0001), but did not under either added N or elevated CO2 alone. C3 fine root production decreased with added N (P < 0.0001), but fine roots increased under elevated CO2 (P = 0.0481). The C4 species increased growth under high N availability both above- and belowground, but that stimulation was diminished under elevated CO2. The results suggest that the marsh vegetation allocates biomass according to resource capture at the individual plant level rather than for optimal ecosystem viability in regards to biomass influence over the processes that maintain soil surface elevation in equilibrium with sea level.


Biomass Chesapeake Bay Productivity Sea level rise Tidal marsh Turnover