Biomass production in a nitrogen-fertilized, tallgrass prairie ecosystem exposed to ambient and elevated levels of CO2
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Increased biomass production in terrestrial ecosystems with elevated atmospheric CO2 may be constrained by nutrient limitations as a result of increased requirement or reduced availability caused by reduced turnover rates of nutrients. To determine the short-term impact of nitrogen (N) fertilization on plant biomass production under elevated CO2, we compared the response of N-fertilized tallgrass prairie at ambient and twice-ambient CO2 levels over a 2-year period. Native tallgrass prairie plots (4.5 m diameter) were exposed continuously (24 h) to ambient and twice-ambient CO2 from 1 April to 26 October. We compared our results to an unfertilized companion experiment on the same research site. Above- and belowground biomass production and leaf area of fertilized plots were greater with elevated than ambient CO2 in both years. The increase in biomass at high CO2 occurred mainly aboveground in 1991, a dry year, and belowground in 1990, a wet year. Nitrogen concentration was lower in plants exposed to elevated CO2, but total standing crop N was greater at high CO2. Increased root biomass under elevated CO2 apparently increased N uptake. The biomass production response to elevated CO2 was much greater on N-fertilized than unfertilized prairie, particularly in the dry year. We conclude that biomass production response to elevated CO2 was suppressed by N limitation in years with below-normal precipitation. Reduced N concentration in above- and belowground biomass could slow microbial degradation of soil organic matter and surface litter, thereby exacerbating N limitation in the long term.
Key wordsaboveground biomass carbon dioxide elevated CO2 N limitation nitrogen fertilization root biomass tallgrass prairie water-use efficiency
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