, Volume 188, Issue 2, pp 299-308

Carbon and nitrogen allocation in Lolium perenne in response to elevated atmospheric CO2 with emphasis on soil carbon dynamics

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The effect of elevated CO2 on the carbon and nitrogen distribution within perennial ryegrass (L. perenne L.) and its influence on belowground processes were investigated. Plants were homogeneously 14C-labelled in two ESPAS growth chambers in a continuous 14C-CO2 atmosphere of 350 and 700 μL L-1 CO2 and at two soil nitrogen regimes, in order to follow the carbon flow through all plant and soil compartments.

After 79 days, elevated CO2 increased the total carbon uptake by 41 and 21% at low (LN) and high nitrogen (HN) fertilisation, respectively. Shoot growth remained unaffected, whereas CO2 enrichment stimulated root growth by 46% and the root/soil respiration by 111%, irrespective of the nitrogen concentration. The total 14C-soil content increased by 101 and 28% at LN and HN, respectively. The decomposition of the native soil organic matter was not affected either by CO2 or by the nitrogen treatment.

Elevated CO2 did not change the total nitrogen uptake of the plant either at LN or at HN. Both at LN and HN elevated CO2 significantly increased the total amount of nitrogen taken up by the roots and decreased the absolute and relative amounts translocated to the shoots.

The amount of soil nitrogen immobilised by micro-organisms and the size of the soil microbial biomass were not affected by elevated CO2, whereas both were significantly increased at the higher soil N content.

Most striking was the 88% increase in net carbon input into the soil expressed as: 14C-roots plus total 14C-soil content minus the 12C-carbon released by decomposition of native soil organic matter. The net carbon input into the soil at ambient CO2 corresponded with 841 and 1662 kg ha-1 at LN and HN, respectively. Elevated CO2 increased these amounts with an extra carbon input of 950 and 1056 kg ha-1. Combined with a reduced decomposition rate of plant material grown at elevated CO2 this will probably lead to carbon storage in grassland soils resulting in a negative feed back on the increasing CO2 concentration of the atmosphere.