, Volume 104, Issue 1, pp 77–97 | Cite as

Interspecific variation in the growth response of plants to an elevated ambient CO2 concentration

  • Hendrik Poorter
Ecophysiological and Ecosystem Responses: Effects of CO2 Enrichment on Growth and Production


The effect of a doubling in the atmospheric CO2 concentration on the growth of vegetative whole plants was investigated. In a compilation of literature sources, the growth stimulation of 156 plant species was found to be on average 37%. This enhancement is small compared to what could be expected on the basis of CO2-response curves of photosynthesis. The causes for this stimulation being so modest were investigated, partly on the basis of an experiment with 10 wild plant species. Both the source-sink relationship and size constraints on growth can cause the growth-stimulating effect to be transient.

Data on the 156 plant species were used to explore interspecific variation in the response of plants to high CO2. The growth stimulation was larger for C3 species than for C4 plants. However the difference in growth stimulation is not as large as expected as C4 plants also significantly increased in weight (41% for C3vs. 22% for C4). The few investigated CAM species were stimulated less in growth (15%) than the average C4 species. Within the group of C3 species, herbaceous crop plants responded more strongly than herbaceous wild species (58%vs. 35%) and potentially fast-growing wild species increased more in weight than slow-growing species (54%vs. 23%). C3 species capable of symbiosis with N2-fixing organisms had higher growth stimulations compared to other C3 species. A common denominator in these 3 groups of more responsive C3 plants might be their large sink strength. Finally, there was some tendency for herbaceous dicots to show a larger response than monocots. Thus, on the basis of this literature compilation, it is concluded that also within the group of C3 species differences exist in the growth response to high CO2.


Carbon Economy Yield 



leaf area ratio


leaf weight ratio


net assimilation rate


rate of photosynthesis per unit leaf area


relative growth rate


root weight ratio


specific leaf area


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hendrik Poorter
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Dept. Plant BiologyUniversity of GroningenHarenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.PEBG, RSBS, ANUCanberraAustralia

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