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Variations of ecosystem gas exchange in the rain forest mesocosm at Biosphere 2 in response to elevated CO2


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The effects of elevated CO2 on tropical ecosystems were studied in the artificial rain forest mesocosm at Biosphere 2, a large-scale and ecologically diverse experimental facility located in Oracle, Arizona. The ecosystem responses were assessed by comparing the whole-system net gas exchange (NEE) upon changing CO2 levels from 900 to 450 ppmV. The day-NEE was significantly higher in the elevated CO2 treatment. In both experiments, the NEE rates were similar to values observed in natural analogue systems. Variations in night-NEE, reflecting both soil CO2 efflux and plants respiration, covaried with temperature but showed no clear correlation with atmospheric CO2 levels. After correcting for changes in CO2 efflux we show that the rain forest net photosynthesis increased in response to increasing atmospheric CO2. The photosynthetic enhancement was expressed in higher quantum yields, maximum assimilation rates and radiation use efficiency. The results suggest that photosynthesis in large tropical trees is CO2 sensitive, at least following short exposures of days to weeks. Taken at face value, the data suggest that as a result of anthropogenic emissions of CO2, tropical rain forests may shift out of steady state, and become a carbon sink at least for short periods. However, a better understanding of the unique conditions and phenomena in Biosphere 2 is necessary before these results are broadly useful.