Plant Respiration Responses to Elevated CO2: An Overview from Cellular Processes to Global Impacts
Earth is currently going through a period of unprecedented, exponential change. As a result, the world’s flora are experiencing novel environmental conditions. One of the most steady, ongoing global changes is the rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). Atmospheric CO2 levels are the highest they’ve been in 650,000 years and are continuing to increase. The rate at which land plants take up and release CO2 through photosynthesis and respiration, respectively, will significantly influence the trajectory of atmospheric CO2 change in the future. This chapter explores the physiological mechanisms underlying the response of plant CO2 release (i.e., respiration) to changing atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Both short- (seconds to minutes) and long- (weeks to years) term responses are discussed. Over relatively short timescales, CO2 can alter respiratory physiology, but counterbalancing responses may result in no change in gross respiration. Longer-term responses of respiration to CO2 are likely to be determined by changes in the supply of respiratory substrates and demand for respiratory products. Additionally, the interaction between respiration responses to CO2 and other global change factors, such as temperature, precipitation, and nitrogen, are considered. In many cases, results from experiments examining these interactions indicate weaker responses than theory might suggest. Finally, the representation of plant respiration in the large-scale models used to project climate change is examined. This section highlights the simplicity of current model representations, which do not explicitly include direct responses of plant respiration to elevated CO2 . Recommendations for model improvement are suggested. It is essential that plant physiologists and modelers work together to improve the representation of these processes in large-scale models in order to increase confidence and reduce uncertainty in projections of future biosphere-atmosphere CO2 feedbacks.
This work was supported by the United States Department of Agriculture – National Institute of Food and Agriculture (2015-67003-23485), the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NNX13AN65H), and the Purdue Climate Change Research Center.
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