Plant and Soil

, Volume 187, Issue 2, pp 119–131 | Cite as

Belowground positive and negative feedbacks on CO2 growth enhancement

  • G. M. Berntson
  • F. A. Bazzaz
Increased Carbon Fixation Under Elevated CO2


In this paper we present a conceptual model of integrated plant-soil interactions which illustrates the importance of identifying the primary belowground feedbacks, both positive and negative, which can simultaneously affect plant growth responses to elevated CO2. The primary negative feedbacks share the common feature of reducing the amount of nutrients available to plants. These negative feedbacks include increased litter C/N ratios, and therefore reduced mineralization rates, increased immobilization of available nutrients by a larger soil microbial pool, and increased storage of nutrients in plant biomass and detritus due to increases in net primary productivity (NPP). Most of the primary positive feedbacks share the common feature of being plant mediated feedbacks, the only exception being Zak et al.'s hypothesis that increased microbial biomass will be accompanied by increased mineralization rates. Plant nutrient uptake may be increased through alterations in root architecture, physiology, or mycorrhizal symbioses. Further, the increased C/N ratios of plant tissue mean that a given level of NPP can be achieved with a smaller supply of nitrogen.

Identification of the net plant-soil feedbacks to enhanced productivity with elevated CO2 are a critical first step for any ecosystem. It is necessary, however, that we first identify how universally applicable the results are from one study of one ecosystem before ecosystem models incorporate this information. The effect of elevated CO2 on plant growth (including NPP, tissue quality, root architecture, mycorrhizal symbioses) can vary greatly for different species and environmental conditions. Therefore it is reasonable to expect that different ecosystems will show different patterns of interacting positive and negative feedbacks within the plant-soil system. This inter-ecosystem variability in the potential for long-term growth responses to rising CO2 levels implies that we need to parameterize mechanistic models of the impact of elevated CO2 on ecosystem productivity using a detailed understanding of each ecosystem of interest.

Key words

C/N CO2 feedback mycorrhizae net primary productivity root architecture soil organic matter 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • G. M. Berntson
    • 1
  • F. A. Bazzaz
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Organismal and Evolutionary Biology, The Biological LaboratoriesHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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