N2 fixation by Acacia species increases under elevated atmospheric CO2


Correspondence: Dr Marcus Schortemeyer. Fax: + 61 261254919; e-mail: marcus@rsbs.anu.edu.au


In the present study the effect of elevated CO2 on growth and nitrogen fixation of seven Australian Acacia species was investigated. Two species from semi-arid environments in central Australia (Acacia aneura and A. tetragonophylla) and five species from temperate south-eastern Australia (Acacia irrorata, A. mearnsii, A. dealbata, A. implexa and A. melanoxylon) were grown for up to 148 d in controlled greenhouse conditions at either ambient (350 µmol mol−1) or elevated (700 µmol mol−1) CO2 concentrations. After establishment of nodules, the plants were completely dependent on symbiotic nitrogen fixation. Six out of seven species had greater relative growth rates and lower whole plant nitrogen concentrations under elevated versus normal CO2. Enhanced growth resulted in an increase in the amount of nitrogen fixed symbiotically for five of the species. In general, this was the consequence of lower whole-plant nitrogen concentrations, which equate to a larger plant and greater nodule mass for a given amount of nitrogen. Since the average amount of nitrogen fixed per unit nodule mass was unaltered by atmospheric CO2, more nitrogen could be fixed for a given amount of plant nitrogen. For three of the species, elevated CO2 increased the rate of nitrogen fixation per unit nodule mass and time, but this was completely offset by a reduction in nodule mass per unit plant mass.