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Strong photosynthetic acclimation and enhanced water‐use efficiency in grassland functional groups persist over 21 years of CO2 enrichment, independent of nitrogen supply
- Pastore, Melissa A., Lee, Tali D., Hobbie, Sarah E., Reich, Peter B.
- Global change biology 2019 v.25 no.9 pp. 3031-3044
- C3 plants, C4 plants, acclimation, carbon dioxide, drought, forbs, free air carbon dioxide enrichment, gas exchange, grasses, grasslands, herbaceous plants, leaves, legumes, models, nitrogen, perennials, photosynthesis, prediction, stomatal conductance, uncertainty, water use efficiency, Minnesota
- Uncertainty about long‐term leaf‐level responses to atmospheric CO₂ rise is a major knowledge gap that exists because of limited empirical data. Thus, it remains unclear how responses of leaf gas exchange to elevated CO₂ (eCO₂) vary among plant species and functional groups, or across different levels of nutrient supply, and whether they persist over time for long‐lived perennials. Here, we report the effects of eCO₂ on rates of net photosynthesis and stomatal conductance in 14 perennial grassland species from four functional groups over two decades in a Minnesota Free‐Air CO₂ Enrichment experiment, BioCON. Monocultures of species belonging to C₃ grasses, C₄ grasses, forbs, and legumes were exposed to two levels of CO₂ and nitrogen supply in factorial combinations over 21 years. eCO₂ increased photosynthesis by 12.9% on average in C₃ species, substantially less than model predictions of instantaneous responses based on physiological theory and results of other studies, even those spanning multiple years. Acclimation of photosynthesis to eCO₂ was observed beginning in the first year and did not strengthen through time. Yet, contrary to expectations, the response of photosynthesis to eCO₂ was not enhanced by increased nitrogen supply. Differences in responses among herbaceous plant functional groups were modest, with legumes responding the most and C₄ grasses the least as expected, but did not further diverge over time. Leaf‐level water‐use efficiency increased by 50% under eCO₂ primarily because of reduced stomatal conductance. Our results imply that enhanced nitrogen supply will not necessarily diminish photosynthetic acclimation to eCO₂ in nitrogen‐limited systems, and that significant and consistent declines in stomatal conductance and increases in water‐use efficiency under eCO₂ may allow plants to better withstand drought.