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Keywords:

  • allometry;
  • biomass allocation;
  • elevated CO2;
  • old-field annuals;
  • optimal partitioning;
  • plant growth

Summary

Increased atmospheric carbon dioxide supply is predicted to alter plant growth and biomass allocation patterns. It is not clear whether changes in biomass allocation reflect optimal partitioning or whether they are a direct effect of increased growth rates. Plasticity in growth and biomass allocation patterns was investigated at two concentrations of CO2 ([CO2]) and at limiting and nonlimiting nutrient levels for four fast- growing old-field annual species. Abutilon theophrasti, Amaranthus retroflexus, Chenopodium album, and Polygonum pensylvanicum were grown from seed in controlled growth chamber conditions at current (350 μmol mol−1, ambient) and future- predicted (700 μmol mol−1, elevated) CO2 levels. Frequent harvests were used to determine growth and biomass allocation responses of these plants throughout vegetative development. Under nonlimiting nutrient conditions, whole plant growth was increased greatly under elevated [CO2] for three C3 species and moderately increased for a C4 species (Amaranthus). No significant increases in whole plant growth were observed under limiting nutrient conditions. Plants grown in elevated [CO2] had lower or unchanged root:shoot ratios, contrary to what would be expected by optimal partitioning theory. These differences disappeared when allometric plots of the same data were analysed, indicating that CO2-induced differences in root:shoot allocation were a consequence of accelerated growth and development rates. Allocation to leaf area was unaffected by atmospheric [CO2] for these species. The general lack of biomass allocation responses to [CO2] availability is in stark contrast with known responses of these species to light and nutrient gradients. We conclude that biomass allocation responses to elevated atmospheric [CO2] are not consistent with optimal partitioning predictions.