• BIOME3;
  • low atmospheric CO2;
  • Last Glacial Maximum (LGM);
  • leaf area index (LAI);
  • palaeoecology;
  • vegetation modelling;
  • water-use efficiency (WUE);
  • North America


1. Physiological experiments have indicated that the lower CO2 levels of the last glaciation (200 μmol mol−1) probably reduced plant water-use efficiency (WUE) and that they combined with increased aridity and colder temperatures to alter vegetation structure and composition at the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM).2. The effects of low CO2 on vegetation structure were investigated using BIOME3 simulations of leaf area index (LAI), and a two-by-two factorial experimental design (modern/LGM CO2, modern/LGM climate).3. Using BIOME3, and a combination of lowered CO2 and simulated LGM climate (from the NCAR-CCM1 model), results in the introduction of additional xeric vegetation types between open woodland and closed-canopy forest along a latitudinal gradient in eastern North America.4. The simulated LAI of LGM vegetation was 25–60% lower in many regions of central and eastern United States relative to modern climate, indicating that glacial vegetation was much more open than today.5. Comparison of factorial simulations show that low atmospheric CO2 has the potential to alter vegetation structure (LAI) to a greater extent than LGM climate.6. If the magnitude of LAI reductions simulated for glacial North America were global, then low atmospheric CO2 may have promoted atmospheric warming and increased aridity, through alteration of rates of water and heat exchange with the atmosphere.