The impact of doubled atmospheric [CO2] on the carbon balance of regularly cut Lolium perenne L. swards was studied for two years under semi-field conditions in the Wageningen Rhizolab. CO2 and H2O vapour exchange rates of the swards were measured continuously for two years in transparent enclosures. The light utilization efficiencies of the swards ranged between 1.5 g CO2 MJ–1 global radiation (high light, ambient [CO2]) and 2.8 g CO2 MJ–1 (low light, doubled [CO2]). The above-ground net primary productivity (NPP) in the enclosures was greater by 29% in 1994 and 43% in 1995 in the doubled [CO2] treatments, but only 20% and 25% more carbon was recovered in the periodical cuts. Thus, NPP increased significantly more than did the harvested above-ground biomass. The positive [CO2] effect on net carbon assimilation is therefore associated with a preferential allocation of extra carbon to the roots and soil.
In addition to higher canopy photosynthesis and leaf elongation rates, a small part of the positive [CO2] effects on NPP could be attributed to a decrease of the specific respiration of the shoots. On a canopy basis however, respiration was equal or slightly higher at doubled [CO2] due to the higher amount of standing biomass.
Comparison of NPP and carbon recovered in different harvests showed that allocation to roots and soil was highest in spring, it was low in early summer and increased again in late summer and autumn.
The total gross amount of carbon partitioned to the roots and soil during the two year period was 57% more at doubled [CO2]. The total amount of carbon that was sequestered in the soil after subtraction of the respiratory losses was 458 g m–2 and 779 g m–2 in the ambient and doubled [CO2] treatments, respectively.
The average water use efficiency (WUE) of the swards was increased by a factor 1.5 at doubled [CO2]. Both WUE and its positive interaction with [CO2] varied between years and were positively correlated with global irradiance. At doubled [CO2], the higher WUE was fully compensated for by a higher leaf area index. Therefore, total transpiration on a canopy basis was equal for the ambient and the doubled [CO2] concentrations in both years.