Free air CO2 enrichment (FACE) improves water use efficiency and moderates drought effect on N2 fixation of Pisum sativum L.

  • Shahnaj ParvinEmail author
  • Shihab Uddin
  • Glenn J. Fitzgerald
  • Sabine Tausz-Posch
  • Roger Armstrong
  • Michael Tausz
Regular Article


Background and aims

Legume N2 fixation is highly sensitive to drought. Elevated [CO2] (e[CO2]) decreases stomatal conductance (gs) and improves water use efficiency (WUE), which may result in soil water conservation and allow N2 fixation to continue longer under drought. Using a Free-Air CO2 Enrichment (FACE) approach, this study aimed to elucidate whether e[CO2] improves N2 fixation of Pisum sativum L. under drought.


In a FACE system, plants were grown in ambient [CO2] (~400 ppm) or e[CO2] (~550 ppm) and subjected to either terminal drought or well-watered treatments. Measurements were taken of photosynthesis, soil water dynamics, water soluble carbohydrates (WSC), amino acids (AA) and N2 fixation.


Lower gs under e[CO2] increased water use efficiency at leaf and plant level, and this translated to slower soil water depletion during drought. Elevated [CO2] increased WSC and decreased total AA concentrations in nodules, and increased nodule activity under drought. N2 fixation was stimulated (+51%) by e[CO2] in proportion to biomass changes. Under e[CO2] a greater proportion of plant total N was derived from fixed N2 and a smaller proportion from soil N uptake compared to a[CO2].


This study suggests that e[CO2] increased WUE and this resulted in slower soil water depletion, allowing pea plants to maintain greater nodule activity under drought and resulting in appreciable increases in N2 fixation. Our results suggest that growth under e[CO2] can mitigate drought effects on N2 fixation and reduce dependency on soil N resources especially in water-limited agro-ecosystems.


FACE Drought Water use efficiency Amino acids Nodule activity N2 fixation 



Free-Air CO2 Enrichment


CO2 concentration


Elevated [CO2]


Ambient [CO2]


Water use efficiency


N concentration


Percentage of N2 derived from atmosphere


Percentage of N derived from soil




Water regimes


Light saturated net CO2 assimilation rate


Stomatal conductance


Intrinsic water use efficiency


Water-use efficiency based on biomass


Relative water content


Water soluble carbohydrate


Amino acids







The SoilFACE facility was part of the Australian Grains Free Air CO2 Enrichment (AGFACE) program, which was jointly run by Agriculture Victoria and the University of Melbourne with funding from the Grains Research and Development Corporation and the Australian Commonwealth Department of Agriculture and Water Resources. We gratefully acknowledge Mahabubur Mollah (Agriculture Victoria) for operating the FACE technology and Sam Henty, Russel Argall, Mel Munn and other field team members for managing the field experiments. We are thankful to Shu Kee Lam for pre-submission review of the manuscript and useful comments, Maryse Bourgault for helpful suggestions during the experiment, Markus Löw for assisting with statistical analysis using R and Samuel Poynter for stable isotope analysis using the platform of Trace Analysis for Chemical, Earth and Environmental Science (TrACEES, University of Melbourne). First author acknowledges support by a Melbourne International Research Scholarship.

Supplementary material

11104_2019_3949_MOESM1_ESM.docx (1.4 mb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 1.43 mb)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Ecosystem and Forest SciencesThe University of MelbourneCreswickAustralia
  2. 2.Department of AgronomyBangladesh Agricultural UniversityMymensinghBangladesh
  3. 3.Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural SciencesThe University of MelbourneCreswickAustralia
  4. 4.Department of Economic DevelopmentJobs, Transport and ResourcesHorshamAustralia
  5. 5.School of BiosciencesUniversity of BirminghamBirminghamUK
  6. 6.Department of Animal, Plant and Soil SciencesLa Trobe UniversityMelbourneAustralia
  7. 7.Birmingham Institute of Forest ResearchUniversity of BirminghamBirminghamUK

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