Do species and functional groups differ in acquisition and use of C, N and water under varying atmospheric CO2 and N availability regimes? A field test with 16 grassland species


Author for correspondence: Peter B. Reich Tel: +1 612 624 4270 Fax: +1 612 625 5212


  •  To evaluate whether functional groups have a similar response to global change, the responses to CO2 concentration and N availability of grassland species from several functional groups are reported here.
  •  Sixteen perennial grassland species from four trait-based functional groups (C3 grasses, C4 grasses, non-leguminous forbs, legumes) were grown in field monocultures under ambient or elevated (560 µmol mol−1) CO2 using free-air CO2 enrichment (FACE), in low N (unamended field soil) or high N (field soil +4 g N m−2 years−1) treatments.
  •  There were no CO2 × N interactions. Functional groups responded differently to CO2 and N in terms of biomass, tissue N concentration and soil solution N. Under elevated CO2, forbs, legumes and C3 grasses increased total biomass by 31%, 18%, and 9%, respectively, whereas biomass was reduced in C4-grass monocultures. Two of the four legume species increased biomass and total plant N pools under elevated CO2, probably due to stimulated N-fixation. Only one species markedly shifted the proportional distribution of below- vs aboveground biomass in response to CO2 or N.
  •  Although functional groups varied in responses to CO2 and N, there was also substantial variation in responses among species within groups. These results suggest that current trait-based functional classifications might be useful, but not sufficient, for understanding plant and ecosystem responses to elevated CO2 and N availability.