Growth response of branches of Picea sitchensis to four years exposure to elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration

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Abstract

Branch bags were used to expose branches on mature Sitka spruce trees to either ambient [CO2] (A) or elevated [CO2] (E) for 4 yr. This paper reports the effects of this treatment on the growth, development and phenology of the branches, including shoot expansion, shoot numbers, needle dimensions, needle numbers and stomatal density. The effect of elevated [CO2] on the relationship between leaf area and sapwood area was investigated. Exposure to elevated [CO2] doubled photosynthetic rates in current-year shoots and, despite some down-regulation, 1-yr-old E shoots also had higher rates of photosynthesis than their A counterparts. Thus, the amount of assimilate fixed by E branches was substantially more than that fixed by A branches; however, this increase in the local production of assimilate did not lead to an increase in non-structural carbohydrate or stimulate growth or meristematic activity within the E branches. There was a very consistent relationship between leaf area and stem cross-sectional area that was not influenced by [CO2]. However, unbagged branches had thicker stems than bagged branches, resulting in a slightly lower ratio of leaf area to cross-sectional area. The implications of the results for the modelling of growth and allocation and the potential utility of the branch bag technique are discussed.

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