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Keywords:

  • Atmospheric CO2;
  • carbon allocation;
  • nitrogen;
  • Populus tremuloides Michx. (trembling aspen);
  • fine roots

We grew cuttings of two early (mid Oct.) and two late (early Nov.) leaf-fall Populus tremuloides Michx. genotypes (referred to as genotype pairs) for c. 150 d in open-top chambers to understand how twice-ambient (elevated) CO2 and soil N availability would affect growth and C allocation. For the study, we selected genotypes differing in leaf area duration to find out if late-season photosynthesis influenced C allocation to roots. Both elevated CO2 and high soil N availability significantly increased estimated whole-tree photosynthesis, but they did so in different ways. Elevated CO2 stimulated leaf-level photosynthesis rates, whereas high soil N availability resulted in greater total plant leaf area. The early leaf-fall genotype pair had significantly higher photosynthesis rates per unit leaf area than the late leaf-fall genotype pair and elevated CO2 enhanced this difference. The early leaf-fall genotype pair had less leaf area than the late leaf-fall genotype pair, and their rate of leaf area development decreased earlier in the season. Across both genotype pairs, high soil N availability significantly increased fine root length production and mortality by increasing both the amount of root length present, and by decreasing the life span of individual roots. Elevated CO2 resulted in significantly increased fine root production and mortality in high N but not low N soil and did not affect fine root life span. The early leaf-fall genotype pair had significantly greater fine root length production than the late leaf-fall genotype pair across all CO2 and N treatments. These differences in belowground C allocations are consistent with the hypothesis that belowground C and N cycling is strongly influenced by soil N availability and will increase under elevated atmospheric CO2. In addition, this study reinforces the need for better understanding of the variation in tree responses to elevated CO2, within and among species.