As a consequence of land-use change and the burning of fossil fuels, atmospheric concentrations of CO2 are increasing and altering the dynamics of the carbon cycle in forest ecosystems. In a number of studies using single tree species, fine root biomass has been shown to be strongly increased by elevated CO2. However, natural forests are often intimate mixtures of a number of co-occurring species. To investigate the interaction between tree mixture and elevated CO2, Alnus glutinosa, Betula pendula and Fagus sylvatica were planted in areas of single species and a three species polyculture in a free-air CO2 enrichment study (BangorFACE). The trees were exposed to ambient or elevated CO2 (580 μmol mol−1) for 4 years. Fine and coarse root biomass, together with fine root turnover and fine root morphological characteristics were measured. Fine root biomass and morphology responded differentially to the elevated CO2 at different soil depths in the three species when grown in monocultures. In polyculture, a greater response to elevated CO2 was observed in coarse roots to a depth of 20 cm, and fine root area index to a depth of 30 cm. Total fine root biomass was positively affected by elevated CO2 at the end of the experiment, but not by species diversity. Our data suggest that existing biogeochemical cycling models parameterized with data from species grown in monoculture may be underestimating the belowground response to global change.
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