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Biomass and compositional changes occur in chalk grassland turves exposed to elevated CO2 for two seasons in FACE


Kevin Warwick, present address: Plumpton College, Plumpton, Nr. Lewes East Sussex, BN7 3AE, UK, tel + 44/(0)1273 890454, fax + 44/(0)1273 890071


Artificial turves composed of 7 chalk grassland species (Festuca ovina L.; Briza media L.; Bromopsis erecta (Hudson) Fourr.; Plantago media L.; Sanguisorba minor Scop.; Anthyllis vulneraria L. and Lotus corniculatus L.) were grown from seed and exposed to two seasons of elevated (600 μmol mol–1) and ambient (340 μmol mol–1) CO2 concentrations in free air CO2 enrichment (ETH-FACE, Zurich). The turves were clipped regularly to a height of 5 cm and assessed for above ground biomass production and relative abundance based on accumulated clipped dry biomass as well as by point quadrat recording. Below ground biomass production was assessed with root in-growth bags during the second season of growth.

Increases in total biomass (> 30%) were noted in elevated CO2, but the differences did not become significant until the second season of growth. Individual species’ biomass varied in response to elevated CO2, with significant increases in biomass in elevated CO2 turves for both legume species, and no significant CO2 effect on S. minor or P. media. An initial positive CO2 effect on biomass of combined grass species was reversed by the end of the experiment with less biomass and a significantly smaller proportion of total biomass present in elevated CO2, which was attributed primarily to changes in proportion of F. ovina.

Species relative abundance was significantly affected by elevated CO2 in the final 4 of the 6 clip events, with the legume species increasing in proportion at the expense of the other species, particularly the grasses. Root length and dry weight were both significantly increased in elevated CO2 (77% and 89%, respectively), and these increases were greater than increases in shoot biomass (36%) from the same period.

Species responses to elevated CO2, within the model community, were not consistent with predictions made from data on individual species, leading to the conclusion that responses to elevated CO2, at the community level, and species within the community level, are the result of direct physiological effects and indirect competitive effects. These conclusions are discussed with respect to the ecological responses of natural communities, and the chalk grassland community in particular, to elevated CO2.

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