A fast growing high density Populus plantation located in central Italy was exposed to elevated carbon dioxide for a period of three years. An elevated CO2 treatment (550 ppm), of 200 ppm over ambient (350 ppm) was provided using a FACE technique. Standing root biomass, fine root turnover and mycorrhizal colonization of the following Populus species was examined: Populus alba L., Populus nigra L., Populus x euramericana Dode (Guinier). Elevated CO2 increased belowground allocation of biomass in all three species examined, standing root biomass increased by 47–76% as a result of FACE treatment. Similarly, fine root biomass present in the soil increased by 35–84%. The FACE treatment resulted in 55% faster fine root turnover in P. alba and a 27% increase in turnover of roots of P. nigra and P. x euramericana. P. alba and P. nigra invested more root biomass into deeper soil horizon under elevated CO2. Response of the mycorrhizal community to elevated CO2 was more varied, the rate of infection increased only in P. alba for both ectomycorrhizal (EM) and arbuscular mycorrhizas (AM). The roots of P. nigra showed greater infection only by AM and the colonization of the root system of P. x euramericana was not affected by FACE treatment. The results suggest that elevated atmospheric CO2 conditions induce greater belowground biomass investment, which could lead to accumulation of assimilated C in the soil profile. This may have implications for C sequestration and must be taken into account when considering long-term C storage in the soil.
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