The effects of free-air CO2 enrichment and soil water availability on spatial and seasonal patterns of wheat root growth


G. Wechsung, Potsdam-Institute for Climate Impact Research, PO Box 601203, D-14412 Potsdam, Germany, fax +1/602 379 4355, e-mail


Spring wheat [Triticum aestivum (L). cv. Yecora Rojo] was grown from December 1992 to May 1993 under two atmospheric CO2 concentrations, 550 μmol mol–1 for high-CO2 plots, and 370 μmol mol–1 for control plots, using a Free-Air CO2 Enrichment (FACE) apparatus. In addition to the two levels of atmospheric CO2, there were ample and limiting levels of water supply through a subsurface trip irrigation system in a strip, split-plot design. In order to examine the temporal and spatial root distribution, root cores were extracted at six growth stages during the season at in-row and inter-row positions using a soil core device (86 mm ID, 1.0 m length). Such information would help determine whether and to what extent root morphology is changed by alteration of two important factors, atmospheric CO2 and soil water, in this agricultural ecosystem.

Wheat root growth increased under elevated CO2 conditions during all observed developmental stages. A maximum of 37% increase in total root dry mass in the FACE vs. Control plots was observed during the period of stem elongation. Greater root growth rates were calculated due to CO2 enhancement until anthesis. During the early vegetative growth, root dry mass of the inter-row space was significantly higher for FACE than for Control treatments suggesting that elevated CO2 promoted the production of first-order lateral roots per main axis. Then, during the reproductive period of growth, more branching of lateral roots in the FACE treatment occurred due to water stress. Significant higher root dry mass was measured in the inter-row space of the FACE plots where soil water supply was limiting. These sequential responses in root growth and morphology to elevated CO2 and reduced soil water supports the hypothesis that plants grown in a high-CO2 environment may better compensate soil-water-stress conditions.