Three years of free-air CO2 enrichment (POPFACE) only slightly affect profiles of light and leaf characteristics in closed canopies of Populus


Birgit Gielen, Research Group of Plant and Vegetation Ecology, Department of Biology, University of Antwerp, Universiteitsplein 1, B-2610 Wilrijk, Belgium, tel. +32 3 820 22 89, fax +32 3 820 22 71, e-mail:


Modelling is used to predict long-term forest responses to increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Although productivity models are based on light intercepted by the canopy, very little experimental data are available for closed forest stands. Nevertheless, the relationships between light inside a canopy, leaf area, canopy structure, and individual leaf characteristics may be affected by elevated CO2, affecting in turn carbon gain.

Using a free-air CO2 enrichment (FACE) design in a high-density plantation of Populus spp., we studied the effects of increased CO2 concentrations on transmittance (τ) of photosynthetic photon flux density (Qp), on ratios of red/far-red light (R/FR), on leaf area index (LAI), on leaf inclination, on leaf chlorophyll (chl) and nitrogen (N) concentrations, and on specific leaf area (SLA) in the 2nd and 3rd years of treatment. Continuous measurements of τ were made in addition to canopy height profiles of light and leaf characteristics.

Two years of Qp measurements showed an average decrease of canopy transmittance in the FACE treatment, with very small differences at canopy closure. Results were explained by an unaffected LAI in closed canopies, without a FACE-induced stimulation of relative crown depth. In agreement, leaf inclination and extinction coefficients for light were similar in control and FACE conditions. Ratios of R/FR were not significantly affected by the FACE treatment, neither were leaf characteristics, with the exception of leaf N, which allows speculation about N limitation. In general, treatment differences in canopy profiles resulted from an initial stimulation of height growth in the FACE treatment. P. × euramericana differed from P. alba and P. nigra, but species did not differ significantly in their response to the FACE treatment. By the time fast-growing high-density forest plantations have passed the exponential growth phase and reached canopy closure, the likely effects of elevated atmospheric CO2 concentration on canopy architecture and absorption of Qp are minor.