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Gas exchange and photosynthetic acclimation over subambient to elevated CO2 in a C3–C4 grassland


§Correspondence and current address: Laurel J. Anderson, Department of Botany/Microbiology, Ohio Wesleyan University, Delaware, OH 43015-2398, USA
¶Current address: Department of Biology and Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708–0340, USA


Atmospheric CO2 (Ca) has risen dramatically since preglacial times and is projected to double in the next century. As part of a 4-year study, we examined leaf gas exchange and photosynthetic acclimation in C3 and C4 plants using unique chambers that maintained a continuous Ca gradient from 200 to 550 µmol mol−1 in a natural grassland. Our goals were to characterize linear, nonlinear and threshold responses to increasing Ca from past to future Ca levels. Photosynthesis (A), stomatal conductance (gs), leaf water-use efficiency (A/gs) and leaf N content were measured in three common species: Bothriochloa ischaemum, a C4 perennial grass, Bromus japonicus, a C3 annual grass, and Solanum dimidiatum, a C3 perennial forb. Assimilation responses to internal CO2 concentrations (A/Ci curves) and photosynthetically active radiation (A/PAR curves) were also assessed, and acclimation parameters estimated from these data. Photosynthesis increased linearly with Ca in all species (P < 0.05). S. dimidiatum and B. ischaemum had greater carboxylation rates for Rubisco and PEP carboxylase, respectively, at subambient than superambient Ca (P < 0.05). To our knowledge, this is the first published evidence of A up-regulation at subambient Ca in the field. No species showed down-regulation at superambient Ca. Stomatal conductance generally showed curvilinear decreases with Ca in the perennial species (P < 0.05), with steeper declines over subambient Ca than superambient, suggesting that plant water relations have already changed significantly with past Ca increases. Resource-use efficiency (A/gs and A/leaf N) in all species increased linearly with Ca. As both C3 and C4 plants had significant responses in A, gs, A/gs and A/leaf N to Ca enrichment, future Ca increases in this grassland may not favour C3 species as much as originally thought. Non-linear responses and acclimation to low Ca should be incorporated into mechanistic models to better predict the effects of past and present rising Ca on grassland ecosystems.