Is photosynthetic enhancement sustained through three years of elevated CO2 exposure in 175-year old Quercus robur?

By A Gardner, DS Ellsworth, KY Crous, J Pritchard and AR MacKenzie


Current carbon cycle models attribute rising atmospheric CO2 as the major driver of the increased terrestrial carbon sink, but with substantial uncertainties. The photosynthetic response of trees to elevated atmospheric CO2 is a necessary step, but not the only one, for sustaining the terrestrial carbon uptake, but can vary diurnally, seasonally and with duration of CO2 exposure. Hence we sought to quantify the photosynthetic response of the canopy-dominant species, Quercus robur, in a mature deciduous forest to elevated CO2 (eCO2) (+150 μmol mol-1 CO2) over the first three years of a long-term free air CO2 enrichment facility at the Birmingham Institute of Forest Research in central England (BIFoR FACE). Over three thousand measurements of leaf gas exchange and related biochemical parameters were conducted in the upper canopy to assess the diurnal and seasonal responses of photosynthesis during the 2nd and 3rd year of eCO2 exposure. Measurements of photosynthetic capacity via biochemical parameters, derived from CO2 response curves, (Vcmax and Jmax) together with leaf nitrogen concentrations from the pre-treatment year to the 3 rd year of eCO2 exposure, were examined. We hypothesized an initial enhancement in light-saturated net photosynthetic rates (Asat) with CO2 enrichment of ≈37% based on theory but also expected photosynthetic capacity would fall over the duration of the study. Over the three-year period, Asat of upper-canopy leaves was 33 ± 8 % higher (mean and standard error) in trees grown in eCO2 compared with ambient CO2 (aCO2), and photosynthetic enhancement decreased with decreasing light. There were no significant effects of CO2 treatment on Vcmax or Jmax, nor leaf nitrogen. Our results suggest that mature Q. robur may exhibit a sustained, positive response to eCO2 without photosynthetic downregulation, suggesting that, with adequate nutrients, there will be sustained enhancement in C assimilated by these mature trees. Further research will be required to understand the location and role of the additionally assimilated carbon.

This article appeared on the bioRXiv website at https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.12.16.416255v2


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