C4 grasses prosper as carbon dioxide eliminates desiccation in warmed semi-arid grassland (2011)

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Global warming is predicted to induce desiccation in many world regions through increases in evaporative demand. Rising CO2 may counter that trend by improving plant water-use efficiency. However, it is not clear how important this CO2-enhanced water use efficiency might be in offsetting warming-induced desiccation because higher CO2 also leads to higher plant biomass, and therefore greater transpirational surface. Furthermore, although warming is predicted to favour warm-season, C4 grasses, rising CO2 should favour C3, or cool-season plants8. Here we show in a semi-arid grassland that elevated CO2 can completely reverse the desiccating effects of moderate warming. Although enrichment of air to 600 p.p.m.v. CO2 increased soil water content (SWC), 1.5/3.0 °C day/night warming resulted in desiccation, such that combined CO2 enrichment and warming had no effect on SWC relative to control plots. As predicted, elevated CO2 favoured C3 grasses and enhanced stand productivity, whereas warming favoured C4 grasses. Combined warming and CO2 enrichment stimulated above-ground growth of C4 grasses in 2 of 3 years when soil moisture most limited plant productivity. The results indicate that in a warmer, CO2-enriched world, both SWC and productivity in semi-arid grasslands may be higher than previously expected.
Year: 2011
Language: English
In: Nature 476, (11 August 2011) doi:10.1038/nature10274, 202–205 p.

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 Record created 2011-08-11, last modified 2013-01-17