Interacting effects of soil fertility and atmospheric CO2 on leaf area growth and carbon gain physiology in Populus x euramericana (Dode) Guinier

TitleInteracting effects of soil fertility and atmospheric CO2 on leaf area growth and carbon gain physiology in Populus x euramericana (Dode) Guinier
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1995
AuthorsCurtis PS, Vogel CS, Pregitzer KS, Zak DR, Teeri JA
JournalNew Phytologist

Two important processes which may limit productivity gains in forest ecosystems with rising atmospheric CO2 are reduction in photosynthetic capacity following prolonged exposure to high CO2 and diminution of positive growth responses when soil nutrients, particularly N, are limiting. To examine the interacting effects of soil fertility and CO2 enrichment on photosynthesis and growth in trees we grew hybrid poplar (Populus x euramericana) for 158 d in the field at ambient and twice ambient CO2 and in soil with low or high N availability. We measured the timing and rate of canopy development, the seasonal dynamics of leaf level photosynthetic capacity, respiration, and N and carbohydrate concentration, and final above- and belowground dry weight. Single leaf net CO2 assimilation (A) increased at elevated CO2 over the majority of the growing season in both fertility treatments. At high fertility, the maximum size of individual leaves, total leaf number, and seasonal leaf area duration (LAD) also increased at elevated CO2, leading to 49% increase in total dry weight. In contrast, at low fertility leaf area growth was unaffected by CO2 treatment. Total dry weight nonetheless increased 25% due to CO2 effects on A. Photosynthetic capacity (A at constant internal p(CO2), (Ci)) was reduced in high CO2 plants after 100 d growth at low fertility and 135 d growth at high fertility. Analysis of A responses to changing Ci indicated that this negative adjustment of photosynthesis was due to a reduction in the maximum rate of CO2 fixation by Rubisco. Maximum rate of electron transport and phosphate regeneration capacity were either unaffected or declined at elevated CO2. Carbon dioxide effects on leaf respiration were most pronounced at high fertility, with increased respiration mid-season and no change (area basis) or reduced (mass basis) respiration late-season in elevated compared to ambient CO2 plants. This temporal variation correlated with changes in leaf N concentration and leaf mass per area. Our results demonstrate the importance of considering both structural and physiological pathways of net C gain in predicting tree responses to rising CO2 under conditions of suboptimal soil fertility.