Plant and Soil

, Volume 296, Issue 1–2, pp 53–64 | Cite as

Individual vs. population plastic responses to elevated CO2, nutrient availability, and heterogeneity: a microcosm experiment with co-occurring species

  • Fernando T. MaestreEmail author
  • José L. Quero
  • Fernando Valladares
  • James F. Reynolds
Regular Article


We conducted an experiment to evaluate the plastic phenotypic responses of individuals, growing under intra-specific competition, and populations of three co-occurring grassland species (Lolium perenne, Plantago lanceolata, and Holcus lanatus) to joint variations in atmospheric CO2 partial pressure (P CO2; 37.5 vs. 70 Pa), nutrient availability (NA; 40 vs. 120 mg N added as organic material), and the spatial pattern of nutrient supply (SH; homogeneous vs. heterogeneous nutrient supply). At both the population and individual levels, the aboveground biomass of the three species significantly increased when the nutrients were heterogeneously supplied. Significant two- (SH × NA) and three-term (P CO2 × NA × SH) interactions determined the response of traits measured on populations (aboveground biomass and below: aboveground biomass ratio, BAR) and individuals (aboveground biomass and specific leaf area). The combination of a high SH and NA elicited the highest plasticity of aboveground biomass in populations and individuals of the three species evaluated, and of BAR in Holcus. Soil heterogeneity and elevated P CO2 elicited the highest plasticity in the SLA of Plantago and Lolium individuals. Our results show that populations, and not only individuals, respond to soil heterogeneity in a plastic way, and that plastic responses to elevated P CO2 are complex since they vary across traits and species, and are influenced by the availability of nutrients and by their spatial distribution. They also emphasize the importance of soil heterogeneity as a modulator of plant responses to global change drivers.


Elevated CO2 Soil heterogeneity Nutrient availability Microcosm Phenotypic plasticity 



We thank María D. Puche, Andrea Castillo, and Anne Rosenbarger for their help during the different phases of the study, and Angela Hodge and two anonymous reviewers for useful comments and suggestions on an earlier version of the manuscript. F.T.M. was supported by a Fulbright fellowship (FU2003-0398), by a Ramón y Cajal contract from the Spanish Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia (MEC), and by an Early Career Project Grant from the British Ecological Society (ECPG 231/607). F.V. was supported by the MEC grants RASINV (CGL2004-04884–CO2–02/BOS) and PLASTOFOR (AGL2004–00536/FOR). J.L.Q. was supported by an FPI fellowship from MEC (BES-2003–1716). This research was supported by USDA Specific Co-operative Agreement #58–1270–3–070, NSF-DEB-02–12123, NSF-IBN-99–85877 to the Duke Phytotron, and NSF-SBR-9521914 (Subcontract # 538819–55801 from Carnegie Mellon University).

Supplementary material

11104_2007_9289_MOESM1_ESM.doc (160 kb)
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Fernando T. Maestre
    • 1
    • 5
    Email author
  • José L. Quero
    • 2
  • Fernando Valladares
    • 3
  • James F. Reynolds
    • 1
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of BiologyDuke UniversityDurhamUSA
  2. 2.Departamento de Ecología, Facultad de CienciasUniversidad de GranadaGranadaSpain
  3. 3.Instituto de Recursos NaturalesCentro de Ciencias Medioambientales, CSICMadridSpain
  4. 4.Nicholas School of the Environment, Division of Environmental Science and PolicyDuke UniversityDurhamUSA
  5. 5.Área de Biodiversidad y Conservación, Departamento de Biología y Geología, Escuela Superior de Ciencias Experimentales y TecnológicasUniversidad Rey Juan CarlosMóstolesSpain

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