Symbiotic N2 fixation in a high Alpine grassland: effects of four growing seasons of elevated CO2



1. Increasing carbon dioxide concentration (E: 680 μl CO2 litre–1vs ambient, A: 355 μl CO2 litre–1) around late-successional Alpine sedge communities of the Swiss Central Alps (2450 m) for four growing seasons (1992–1995) had no detectable effect on symbiotic N2 fixation in Trifolium alpinum—the sole N2-fixing plant species in these communities (74 ± 30 mg N m–2 year–1, A and E plots pooled).

2. This result is based on data collected in the fourth growing season showing that elevated CO2 had no effect on Trifolium above-ground biomass (4·4 ± 1·7 g m–2, A and E plots pooled, n = 24) or N content per unit land area (124 ± 51 mg N m–2, A and E pooled), or on the percentage of N Trifolium derived from the atmosphere through symbiotic N2 fixation (%Ndfa: 61·0 ± 4·1 across A and E plots) estimated using the 15N dilution method.

3. Thus, it appears that N inputs to this ecosystem via symbiotic N2 fixation will not be dramatically affected in the foreseeable future even as atmospheric CO2 continues to rise.