, Volume 88, Issue 3, pp 415–421

Nitrogen dynamics and growth of seedlings of an N-fixing tree (Gliricidia sepium (Jacq.) Walp.) exposed to elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide

  • R. B. Thomas
  • D. D. Richter
  • H. Ye
  • P. R. Heine
  • B. R. Strain
Original Papers


Seeds of Gliricidia sepium (Jacq.) Walp., a tree native to seasonal tropical forests of Central America, were inoculated with N-fixing Rhizobium bacteria and grown in growth chambers for 71 days to investigate interactive effects of atmospheric CO2 and plant N status on early seedling growth, nodulation, and N accretion. Seedlings were grown with CO2 partial pressures of 350 and 650 μbar (current ambient and a predicted partial pressure of the mid-21st century) and with plus N or minus N nutrient solutions to control soil N status. Of particular interest was seedling response to CO2 when grown without available soil N, a condition in which seedlings initially experienced severe N deficiency because bacterial N-fixation was the sole source of N. Biomass of leaves, stems, and roots increased significantly with CO2 enrichment (by 32%, 15% and 26%, respectively) provided seedlings were supplied with N fertilizer. Leaf biomass of N-deficient seedlings was increased 50% by CO2 enrichment but there was little indication that photosynthate translocation from leaves to roots or that plant N (fixed by Rhizobium) was altered by elevated CO2. In seedlings supplied with soil N, elevated CO2 increased average nodule weight, total nodule weight per plant, and the amount of leaf nitrogen provided by N-fixation (as indicated by leaf δ15N). While CO2 enrichment reduced the N concentration of some plant tissues, whole plant N accretion increased. Results support the contention that increasing atmospheric CO2 partial pressures will enhance productivity and N-fixing activity of N-fixing tree seedlings, but that the magnitude of early seedling response to CO2 will depend greatly on plant and soil nutrient status.

Key words

Carbon dioxide enrichment Symbiotic N-fixation Nutrient deficiency δ15Gliricidia sepium 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Allen LH Jr, Vu JCV, Valle RR, Boote KJ (1988) Nonstructural carbohydrates and nitrogen of soybean grown under carbon dioxide enrichment. Crop Sci 28:84–94Google Scholar
  2. Arnone JA III, Gordon JC (1990) Effect of nodulation, nitrogen fixation and CO2 enrichment on the physiology, growth and dry mass allocation of seedlings of Alnus rubra Bong. New Phytol 116:55–66Google Scholar
  3. Bazzaz FA (1990) The response of natural ecosystems to the rising global CO2 levels. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 21:167–196Google Scholar
  4. Conroy JP, Barlow EWR, Bevage DI (1986) Response of Pinus radiata to carbon dioxide enrichment at different levels of water and phosphorous: growth, morphology, and anatomy. Ann Bot 57:165–177Google Scholar
  5. Eamus D, Jarvis PG (1989) The direct effects of increase in the global atmospheric CO2 concentration on natural and commercial temperate trees and forests. Adv Ecol Res 19:1–55Google Scholar
  6. Fetcher N, Jaeger CH, Strain BR, Sionit N (1988) Long-term elevation of atmospheric CO2 concentration and the carbon exchange rates of saplings of Pinus taeda L. and Liquidambar styraciflua L. Tree Phys 4:255–262Google Scholar
  7. Finn GA, Brun WA (1982) Effect of atmospheric CO2 enrichment on growth, nonstructural carbohydrate content, and root nodule activity in soybean. Plant Physiol 69:327–331Google Scholar
  8. Hardy RWF, Havelka UD (1976) Photosynthate as a major factor limiting nitrogen fixation by field-grown legumes with emphasis on soybeans. In: Nutman PS (ed) Symbiotic Nitrogen Fixation in Plants. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 421–439Google Scholar
  9. Hellmers H, Giles LJ (1979) Carbon dioxide: critique I. In: Tibbitts TW, Kozlowski TT (eds) Controlled Environment Guidelines for Plant Research. Academic Press, New York, pp 229–234Google Scholar
  10. Higginbotham KO, Mayo JM, L'Hirondelle S, Krystofiak DK (1985) Physiological ecology of lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) in an enriched CO2 environment. Can J For Res 15:417–421Google Scholar
  11. Keeling CD, Bacastow RB, Carter AF, Piper SC, Whorf TP, Heimann M, Mook WG, Roeloffzen H (1989) A 3-dimensional model of atmospheric CO2 transport based on observed winds: 1. Analysis of observational data. In: Peterson DH (ed) Aspects of climate variability in the Pacific and the western Americas. Geophy Monogr 55:165–235Google Scholar
  12. Kramer PJ (1981) Carbon dioxide concentration, photosynthesis and dry matter production. Bioscience 31:29–33Google Scholar
  13. Kvet J, Ondok JP, Necas J, Jarvis PG (1971) Methods of Growth Analysis. In: Sestak Z, Catsky J, Jarvis PG (eds) Plant Photosynthetic Production. Manual of Methods. Dr. W. Junk Publ., The Hague, pp 343–391Google Scholar
  14. Larigauderie A, Hilbert DW, Oechel WC (1988) Effect of CO2 enrichment and nitrogen availability on resource acquisition and resource allocation in a grass, Bromus mollis. Oecologia 77:544–549Google Scholar
  15. Lemon ER (ed) (1983) CO2 and plants: the response of plants to rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide. AAAS Selected Symposium 84. Westview Press, Boulder, CO. pp 1–280Google Scholar
  16. Lincoln DE, Couvet D, Sionit N (1986) Response of an insect herbivore to host plants grown in carbon dioxide enriched atmospheres. Oecologia 69:556–560Google Scholar
  17. Lowther JR (1980) Use of a single sulfuric acid-hydrogen peroxide digest for the analysis of Pinus radiata needles. Comm Soil Sci Plant Anal 11:175–188Google Scholar
  18. Luxmoore RJ, O'Neill EG, Ells JM, Rogers HH (1986) Nutrient-uptake and growth responses of Virginia pine to elevated atmospheric CO2. J Environ Qual 15:244–251Google Scholar
  19. Masterson CL, Sherwood MT (1978) Some effects of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide on white clover (Trifolium repens) and pea (Pisum sativum). Plant Soil 49:421–426Google Scholar
  20. National Academy of Sciences (1980) Firewood Crops. Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  21. Norby RJ (1987) Nodulation and nitrogenase activity in nitrogen-fixing woody plants stimulated by CO2 enrichment of the atmosphere. Physiol Plant 71:77–82Google Scholar
  22. Norby RJ, O'Neill EG (1989) Growth dynamics and water use of seedlings of Quercus alba L. in CO2-enriched atmospheres. New Phytol 111:491–500Google Scholar
  23. Norby RJ, Sigal L (1989) Nitrogen fixation in the lichen Lobaria pulmonaria in elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide. Oecologia 79:566–568Google Scholar
  24. Norby RJ, O'Neill EG, Luxmoore RJ (1986) Effects of atmospheric CO2 enrichment on the growth and mineral nutrition of Quercus alba seedlings in nutrient poor soil. Plant Physiol 82:83–89Google Scholar
  25. Norby RJ, O'Neill EG, Hood WG, Luxmoore RJ (1987) Carbon allocation, root exudation and mycorrhizal colonization of Pinus echinata seedlings grown under CO2 enrichment. Tree Phys 8:203–210Google Scholar
  26. Oberbauer SF, Strain BR, Fetcher N (1985) Effect of CO2-enrichment on seedling physiology and growth of two tropical tree species. Physiol Plant 65:352–356Google Scholar
  27. Oechel WC, Strain BR (1985) Native species responses to increased carbon dioxide concentration. In: Strain BR, Cure JD (eds) Direct effects of increasing carbon dioxide on vegetation. DOE-ER-0238. United States Department of Energy, Carbon Dioxide Research Division, Office of Energy Research, Washington, DC, pp 117–154Google Scholar
  28. O'Neill EG, Luxmoore RJ, Norby RJ (1987) Increases in mycorrhizal colonization and seedling growth in Pinus echinata and Quercus alba in an enriched CO2 atmosphere. Can J For Res 17:878–883Google Scholar
  29. Phillips DA, Newell KD, Hassell SA, Felling CE (1976) The effect of CO2 enrichement on root nodule development and symbiotic N2 reduction in Pisum sativum L. Am J Bot 63:356–362Google Scholar
  30. Poorter H, Lewis C (1986) Testing differences in relative growth rate: a method avoiding curve fitting and pairing. Physiol Plant 67:223–226Google Scholar
  31. Reekie EG, Bazzaz FA (1989) Competition and patterns of resource use among seedlings of five tropical trees grown at ambient and elevated CO2. Oecologia 79:212–222Google Scholar
  32. Shearer G, Kohl DH (1989) Estimates of N2 fixation in ecosystems: the need for and basis of the 15N natural abundance method. In: Rundel PW, Ehleringer JR, Nagy KA (eds) Stable Isotopes in Ecological Research. Ecological Studies 68. Springer-Verlag, New York, pp 342–374Google Scholar
  33. Sionit N, Strain BR, Hellmers H, Reichers GH, Jaeger CH (1985) Longterm atmospheric CO2 enrichment affects growth and development of Liquidambar styraciflua and Pinus taeda seedlings. Can J For Res 15:468–471Google Scholar
  34. Strain BR, Cure JD, (eds) (1985) Direct effects of increasing carbon dioxide on vegetation. DOE-ER-0238. United States Department of Energy, Carbon Dioxide Research Division, Office of Energy Research, Washington, DC, pp 1–154Google Scholar
  35. Thomas RB, Strain BR (1991) Root restriction as a factor in photosynthetic acclimation of cotton seedlings in elevated carbon dioxide. Plant Physiol 96:627–634Google Scholar
  36. Williams LE, DeJong TM, Phillips DA (1981) Carbon and nitrogen limitations on soybean seedling development. Plant Physiol 68:1206–1209Google Scholar
  37. Williams WE, Garbutt K, Bazzaz FA, Vitousek PM (1986) The response of plants to elevated CO2. IV. Two deciduous-forest tree communities. Oecologia 69:454–459Google Scholar
  38. Wong SC (1979) Elevated atmospheric partial pressure of CO2 and plant growth. I. Interactions of nitrogen nutrition and photosynthetic capacity in C3 and C4 plants. Oecologia 44:68–74Google Scholar
  39. Ziska LH, Hogan KP, Smith AP, Drake BG (1991) Growth and photosynthetic response of nine tropical species with long-term exposure to elevated carbon dioxide. Oecologia 86:383–389Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. B. Thomas
    • 1
  • D. D. Richter
    • 1
  • H. Ye
    • 2
  • P. R. Heine
    • 2
  • B. R. Strain
    • 1
  1. 1.Botany DepartmentDuke UniversityDurhamUSA
  2. 2.School of Forestry and Environmental StudiesDuke UniversityDurhamUSA

Personalised recommendations