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Keywords:

  • carbon allocation;
  • carbon budget;
  • carbon dioxide enrichment;
  • minirhizotron;
  • root turnover;
  • water-use-efficiency

Abstract

This study examined root production and turnover in a California grassland during the third year of a long-term experiment with ambient (LO) and twice-ambient atmospheric CO2 (HI), using harvests, ingrowth cores, and minirhizotrons. Based on one-time harvest data, root biomass was 32% greater in the HI treatment, comparable to the stimulation of aboveground production during the study year. However, the 30–70% increase in photosynthesis under elevated CO2 for the dominant species in our system is considerably larger than the combined increase in above and belowground biomass. One possible explanation is, increased root turnover, which could be a sink for the additional fixed carbon. Cumulative root production in ingrowth cores from both treatments harvested at four dates was 2–3 times that in the single harvested cores, suggesting substantial root turnover within the growing season. Minirhizotron data confirmed this result, demonstrating that production and mortality occurred simultaneously through much of the season. As a result, cumulative root production was 54%, 47% and 44% greater than peak standing root length for the no chamber (X), LO, and HI plots, respectively. Elevated CO2, however, had little effect on rates of turnover (i.e. rates of turnover were equal in the LO and HI plots throughout most of the year) and cumulative root production was unaffected by treatment. Elevated CO2 increased monthly production of new root length (59%) only at the end of the season (April–June) when root growth had largely ceased in the LO plots but continued in the HI plots. This end-of-season increase in production coincided with an 18% greater soil moisture content in the HI plots previously described. Total standing root length was not affected by CO2 treatment. Root mortality was unaffected by elevated CO2 in all months except April, in which plants grown in the HI plots had higher mortality rates. Together, these results demonstrate that root turnover is considerable in the grassland community and easily missed by destructive soil coring. However, increased fine root turnover under elevated CO2 is apparently not a major sink for extra photosynthate in this system.