Interactive effects of low atmospheric CO2 and elevated temperature on growth, photosynthesis and respiration in Phaseolus vulgaris


R. F. Sage Fax: 416 978 5878; e-mail:


For most of the past 250 000 years, atmospheric CO2 has been 30–50% lower than the current level of 360 μmol CO2 mol–1 air. Although the effects of CO2 on plant performance are well recognized, the effects of low CO2 in combination with abiotic stress remain poorly understood. In this study, a growth chamber experiment using a two-by-two factorial design of CO2 (380 μmol mol–1, 200 μmol mol–1) and temperature (25/20 °C day/night, 36/29 °C) was conducted to evaluate the interactive effects of CO2 and temperature variation on growth, tissue chemistry and leaf gas exchange of Phaseolus vulgaris. Relative to plants grown at 380 μmol mol–1 and 25/20 °C, whole plant biomass was 36% less at 380 μmol mol–1× 36/29 °C, and 37% less at 200 μmol mol–1× 25/20 °C. Most significantly, growth at 200 μmol mol–1× 36/29 °C resulted in 77% less biomass relative to plants grown at 380 μmol mol–1× 25/20 °C. The net CO2 assimilation rate of leaves grown in 200 μmol mol–1× 25/20 °C was 40% lower than in leaves from 380 μmol mol–1× 25/20 °C, but similar to leaves in 200 μmol mol–1× 36/29 °C. The leaves produced in low CO2 and high temperature respired at a rate that was double that of leaves from the 380μmol mol–1× 25/20 °C treatment. Despite this, there was little evidence that leaves at low CO2 and high temperature were carbohydrate deficient, because soluble sugars, starch and total non-structural carbohydrates of leaves from the 200μmol mol–1× 36/29 °C treatment were not significantly different in leaves from the 380μmol mol–1× 25/20 °C treatment. Similarly, there was no significant difference in percentage root carbon, leaf chlorophyll and leaf/root nitrogen between the low CO2× high temperature treatment and ambient CO2 controls. Decreased plant growth was correlated with neither leaf gas exchange nor tissue chemistry. Rather, leaf and root growth were the most affected responses, declining in equivalent proportions as total biomass production. Because of this close association, the mechanisms controlling leaf and root growth appear to have the greatest control over the response to heat stress and CO2 reduction in P. vulgaris.