Nutrient relations in calcareous grassland under elevated CO2
Plant nutrient responses to 4 years of CO2 enrichment were investigated in situ in calcareous grassland. Beginning in year 2, plant aboveground C:N ratios were increased by 9% to 22% at elevated CO2 (P < 0.01), depending on year. Total amounts of N removed in biomass harvests during the first 4 years were not affected by elevated CO2 (19.9 ± 1.3 and 21.1 ± 1.3 g N m−2 at ambient and elevated CO2), indicating that the observed plant biomass increases were solely attained by dilution of nutrients. Total aboveground P and tissue N:P ratios also were not altered by CO2 enrichment (12.5 ± 2 g N g−1 P in both treatments). In contrast to non-legumes (>98% of community aboveground biomass), legume C/N was not reduced at elevated CO2 and legume N:P was slightly increased. We attribute the less reduced N concentration in legumes at elevated CO2 to the fact that virtually all legume N originated from symbiotic N2 fixation (%Ndfa ≈ 90%), and thus legume growth was not limited by soil N. While total plant N was not affected by elevated CO2, microbial N pools increased by +18% under CO2 enrichment (P = 0.04) and plant available soil N decreased. Hence, there was a net increase in the overall biotic N pool, largely due increases in the microbial N pool. In order to assess the effects of legumes for ecosystem CO2 responses and to estimate the degree to which plant growth was P-limited, two greenhouse experiments were conducted, using firstly undisturbed grassland monoliths from the field site, and secondly designed `microcosm' communities on natural soil. Half the microcosms were planted with legumes and half were planted without. Both monoliths and microcosms were exposed to elevated CO2 and P fertilization in a factored design. After two seasons, plant N pools in both unfertilized monoliths and microcosm communities were unaffected by CO2 enrichment, similar to what was found in the field. However, when P was added total plant N pools increased at elevated CO2. This community-level effect originated almost solely from legume stimulation. The results suggest a complex interaction between atmospheric CO2 concentrations, N and P supply. Overall ecosystem productivity is N-limited, whereas CO2 effects on legume growth and their N2 fixation are limited by P.
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