, Volume 164, Issue 1, pp 85-94

Woody invasion of grasslands: evidence that CO2 enrichment indirectly promotes establishment of Prosopis glandulosa

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Grasslands worldwide have been invaded by woody species during the last200 years. Atmospheric CO2 enrichment may indirectly havefacilitatedinvasion by reducing soil water depletion by grasses. We used a two-stepcorrelative approach to test this hypothesis with the invasive and native shrubhoney mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa Torr. var.glandulosa). 1) Water content to 0.15 m depthwas measured in grassland exposed to a CO2 gradient from 200 to 550μmol/mol to evaluate the prediction that CO2enrichment lessens soil water depletion by grasses. 2) Soil water content andemergence and survival of mesquite seedlings were measured in adjacentgrasslandplots from which grass roots were excluded to 0.15 m depth toreduce water depletion or that were irrigated to increase soil water levels.With these measurements, we tested the hypothesis that mesquite establishmentislimited by water.Excluding grass roots doubled emergence of mesquite and almost tripledthe fraction of emergent seedlings that survived for 12 weeks following thefirst of two plantings. Seedlings were taller, heavier, and had greater leafarea when grown without grass roots. Root exclusion did not measurably affectsoil water during the 3-week period of seedling emergence, but soilwatercontent over the 12 weeks that seedling survival was studied was higher inplotsfrom which grass roots were excluded and following an April than May planting.Survivorship of mesquite seedlings correlated positively with soil watercontent. Percentage survival of seedlings increased from 1.5% to15% and 28% at the soil water content measured in grasslandexposed to CO2 concentrations of 270 (preindustrial), 360 (current),and 550 μmol/mol (future), respectively. We infer thatrecent and projected increases in atmospheric CO2 concentration maybe large enough to increase establishment of invading mesquite seedlings ingrasslands that are severely water-limited.