, Volume 29, Issue 4, pp 275–300 | Cite as

Carbon balance, productivity, and water use of cold-winter desert shrub communities dominated by C3 and C4 species

  • Martyn M. Caldwell
  • Richard S. White
  • Russell T. Moore
  • L. B. Camp


Common generalizations concerning the ecologic significance of C4 photosynthesis were tested in a study of plant gas exchange, productivity, carbon balance, and water use in monospecific communities of C3 and C4 salt desert shrubs. Contrary to expectations, few of the hypotheses concerning the performance of C4 species were supported. Like the C3 species, Ceratoides lanata, the C4 shrub, Atriplex confertifolia, initiated growth and photosynthetic activity in the cool spring months and also exhibited maximum photosynthetic rates at this time of year. To compete successfully with C3 species, Atriplex may have been forced to evolve the capacity for photosynthesis at low temperatures prevalent during the spring when moisture is most abundant. Maximum photosynthetic rates of Atriplex were lower than those of the C3 species. This was compensated by a prolonged period of low photosynthetic activity in the dry late summer months while Ceratoides became largely inactive. However, the annual photosynthetic carbon fixation per ground area was about the same in these two communities composed of C3 and C4 shrubs. The C4 species did not exhibit greater leaf diffusion resistance than the C3 species. The photosynthesis/transpiration ratios of the two species were about the same during the period of maximum photosynthetic rates in the spring. During the warm summer months the C4 species did have superior photosynthesis/transpiration ratios. Yet, since Ceratoides completed a somewhat greater proportion of its annual carbon fixation earlier in the season, the ratio of annual carbon fixation/transpiratory water loss in the two communities was about the same. Atriplex did incorporate a greater percentage of the annual carbon fixation into biomass production than did Ceratoides. However, this is considered to be a reflection of properties apart from the C4 photosynthetic pathway. Both species displayed a heavy commitment of carbon to the belowground system, and only about half of the annual moisture resource was utilized in both communities.


Desert Shrub Maximum Photosynthetic Rate Photosynthetic Carbon Fixation Salt Desert Annual Moisture 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Björkman, O.: Environmental and biological control of photosynthesis: Inaugural address. In: Environmental and biological control of photosynthesis (R. Marcelle, ed.), pp. 1–16. The Hague: Junk 1975Google Scholar
  2. Black, C.C.: Photosynthetic carbon fixation in relation to net CO2 uptake. Ann. Rev. Plant Physiol. 24, 253–286 (1973)Google Scholar
  3. Branson, F.A., Miller, R.F., McQueen, I.S.: Geographic distribution and factors affecting distribution of salt desert shrubs in the United States. J. Range Manage. 20, 287–298 (1967)Google Scholar
  4. Breckle, S.-W.: Wasser- und Salzverhältnisse bei Halophyten der Salzsteppe in Utah/USA. Ber. Deutsch. Bot. Ges. 87, 589–600 (1974)Google Scholar
  5. Caldwell, M.M.: Primary production of grazing lands. In: Photosynthesis and production in different environments (J.P. Cooper, ed.), pp. 41–73. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press 1975Google Scholar
  6. Caldwell, M.M.: Root extension and water absorption. In: Water and plant life (O.L. Lange, L. Kappen, E.-D. Schulze, eds.), pp. 63–85. Berlin-Heidelberg-New York: Springer 1976Google Scholar
  7. Caldwell, M.M., Camp, L.B.: Belowground productivity of two cool desert communities. Oecologia (Berl.) 17, 123–130 (1974)Google Scholar
  8. Caldwell, M.M., Moore, R.T.: A portable small-stage photoelectric planimeter for leaf area measurements. J. Range Manage. 24, 394–395 (1971)Google Scholar
  9. Caldwell, M.M., Osmond, C.B., Nott, D.L.: C4 pathway photosynthesis at low temperature in cold tolerant Atriplex species. Plant Physiol. (in press, 1977)Google Scholar
  10. Coleman, D.C.: A review of root production processes and their influence on soil biota in terrestrial ecosystems. In: The role of terrestrial and aquatic organisms in decomposition processes (J.M. Anderson, A. Macfadyen, eds.), pp. 417–434. Oxford: Blackwell 1976Google Scholar
  11. Eardley, A.J., Gvosdetsky, V., Marsell, R.E.: Hydrology of Lake Bonneville and sediments and soils of its basin. Bull. Geol. Soc. Amer. 68, 1141–1202 (1957)Google Scholar
  12. Fernandez, O.A.: The dynamics of root growth and the partitioning of photosynthates in cool desert shrubs. Ph. D. dissertation, 121 pp. Logan, Utah: Utah State University 1974Google Scholar
  13. Fernandez, O.A., Caldwell, M.M.: Phenology and dynamics of root growth of three cool semi-desert shrubs under field conditions. J. Ecol. 63, 703–714 (1975)Google Scholar
  14. Gaastra, P.: Photosynthesis of crop plants as influenced by light, carbon dioxide, temperature, and stomatal diffusion resistance. Meded. Landb-Hoogesch. Wageningen 59, 1–68 (1959)Google Scholar
  15. Gastó, J.M.: Comparative autecological studies of Eurotia lanata and Atriplex confertifolia. Ph. D. dissertation, 278 pp. Logan, Utah: Utah State University 1969Google Scholar
  16. Gates, D.H., Stoddart, L.A., Cook, C.W.: Soil as a factor influencing plant distribution on salt deserts of Utah. Ecol. Monogr. 26, 155–175 (1956)Google Scholar
  17. Harrison, A.T.: The adaptive value of C3 and C4 photosynthetic pathways in native grassland species of eastern Wyoming. Bull. Ecol. Soc. Amer. 56, 52 (1975)Google Scholar
  18. Hatch, M.D., Osmond, C.B.: Compartmentation and transport in C4 photosynthesis. In: Encyclopedia of plant physiology III (C.R. Stocking, U. Heber, eds.), pp. 144–184. Berlin-Heidelberg-New York: Springer 1976Google Scholar
  19. Hellmuth, E.O.: Eco-physiological studies on plants in arid and semiarid regions in western Australia. III. Comparative studies on photosynthesis, respiration and water relations of ten arid zone and two semi-arid zone plants under winter and late summer climatic conditions. J. Ecol. 59, 225–260 (1971)Google Scholar
  20. Holmgren, R.C., Hutchings, S.S.: Salt desert shrub response to grazing use. In: Wildland shrubs —their biology and utilization (C.M. McKell, J.P. Blaisdell, J.R. Goodin, eds.), pp. 153–164. Ogden, Utah: U.S. Forest Service 1972Google Scholar
  21. Hutchings, S.S., Stewart, G.: Increasing forage yields and sheep production on Intermountain winter ranges. Cir. 925, 63 pp., U.S. Dept. Agric. (1953)Google Scholar
  22. Koch, W., Lange, O.L., Schulze, E.-D.: Ecophysiological investigations on wild and cultivated plants in the Negev Desert. I. Methods: a mobile laboratory for measuring carbon dioxide and water vapour exchange. Oecologia (Berl.) 8, 296–309 (1971)Google Scholar
  23. Lange, O.L., Koch, W., Schulze, E.-D.: CO2-Gaswechsel und Wasserhaushalt von Pflanzen in der Negev-Wüste am Ende der Trockenzeit. Ber. Deutsch. Bot. Ges. 82, 39–61 (1969)Google Scholar
  24. McCree, K.J.: Equations for the rate of dark respiration of white clover and grain sorghum, as functions of dry weight, photosynthetic rate, and temperature. Crop. Sci. 14, 509–514 (1974)Google Scholar
  25. Mitchell, J.E., West, N.E., Miller, R.W.: Soil physical properties in relation to plant community patterns in the shadscale zone of northwestern Utah. Ecology 47, 627–630 (1966)Google Scholar
  26. Moore, R.T.: Transpiration of Atriplex confertifolia and Eurotia lanata in relation to soil, plant, and atmospheric moisture stresses. Ph. D. dissertation, 109 pp. Logan, Utah: Utah State University 1971Google Scholar
  27. Moore, R.T., Caldwell, M.M.: Field use of thermocouple psychrometers in desert soils. In: Psychrometry in water relations research (R.W. Brown, B.P. van Haveren, eds.), pp. 165–169, Utah Agric. Exp. Sta. (1972)Google Scholar
  28. Moore, R.T., White, R.S., Caldwell, M.M.: Transpiration of Atriplex confertifolia and Eurotia lanata in relation to soil, plant, and atmospheric moisture stresses. Can. J. Bot. 50, 2411–2418 (1972)Google Scholar
  29. Pearcy, R.W., Harrison, A.T.: Comparative photosynthetic and respiratory gas exchange characteristics of Atriplex lentiformis (Torr.) Wats. in coastal and desert habitats. Ecology 55, 1104–1111 (1974)Google Scholar
  30. Pearcy, R.W., Harrison, A.T., Mooney, H.A., Björkman, O.: Seasonal changes in net photosynthesis of Atriplex hymenelytra shrubs growing in Death Valley, California. Oecologia (Berl.) 17, 111–121 (1974)Google Scholar
  31. Penning de Vries, F.W.T.: The cost of maintenance processes in plant cells. Ann. Bot. 39, 77–92 (1975)Google Scholar
  32. Penning de Vries, F.W.T., Brunsting, A.H.M., van Laar, H.H.: Products, requirements and efficiency of biosynthesis: A quantitative approach. J. Theor. Biol. 45, 339–377 (1974)Google Scholar
  33. Shaver, G.R., Billings, W.D.: Root production and root turnover in a wet tundra ecosystem, Barrow, Alaska. Ecology 56, 401–409 (1975)Google Scholar
  34. Tanner, C.B., Jury, W.A.: Estimating evaporation and transpiration from a row crop during incomplete cover. Agron. J. 68, 239–242 (1976)Google Scholar
  35. Tieszen, L.L.: Photosynthetic properties of some grasses in eastern South Dakota. Proc. South Dakota Acad. Sci. 49, 78–89 (1970)Google Scholar
  36. Tieszen, L.L., Johnson, D.A., Caldwell, M.M.: A portable system for the measurement of photosynthesis using 14-carbon dioxide. Photosynthetica 8, 151–160 (1974)Google Scholar
  37. Tranquillini, W., Caldwell, M.M.: Integrated calibrations of plant gas exchange systems. Ecology 53, 974–976 (1972)Google Scholar
  38. Walter, H., Lieth, H.: Klimadiagramm-Weltatlas. Jena: G. Fischer 1960Google Scholar
  39. Waring, R.H., Cleary, B.D.: Plant moisture stress: evaluation by pressure bomb. Science 155, 1248–1254 (1967)Google Scholar
  40. West, A.J.: Snow evaporation and condensation. Western Snow Conference Proc. 66–74 (1959)Google Scholar
  41. West, N.E., Fareed, M.: Shoot growth and litter fall processes as they bear on primary production of some cool desert shrubs. Logan, Utah: U.S. IBP Desert Biome Res. Memo. 73-89 (1973)Google Scholar
  42. West, N.E., Gunn, C.: Phenology, productivity and nutrient dynamics of some cool desert shrubs. Logan, Utah, U.S. IBP Desert Biome Res. Memo. 74–79 (1974)Google Scholar
  43. West, N.E., Wein, R.W.: A plant phenological index technique. Bioscience 21, 116–117 (1971)Google Scholar
  44. White, R.S.: Seasonal patterns of photosynthesis and respiration in Atriplex confertifolia and Ceratoides lanata. Ph. D. dissertation, 124 pp. Logan, Utah: Utah State University 1976Google Scholar
  45. Williams, G.J. III: Photosynthetic adaptation to temperature in C3 and C4 grasses. A possible ecological role in the shortgrass prairie. Plant Physiol 54, 709–711 (1974)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1977

Authors and Affiliations

  • Martyn M. Caldwell
    • 1
    • 2
  • Richard S. White
    • 1
    • 2
  • Russell T. Moore
    • 1
    • 2
  • L. B. Camp
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Range ScienceUtah State UniversityLoganUSA
  2. 2.Ecology CenterUtah State UniversityLoganUSA

Personalised recommendations