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Long-term dynamics of mycorrhizal root tips in a loblolly pine forest grown with free-air CO2 enrichment and soil N fertilization for 6 years



Large-scale, long-term FACE (Free-Air CO2 enrichment) experiments indicate that increases in atmospheric CO2 concentrations will influence forest C cycling in unpredictable ways. It has been recently suggested that responses of mycorrhizal fungi could determine whether forest net primary productivity (NPP) is increased by elevated CO2 over long time periods and if forests soils will function as sources or sinks of C in the future. We studied the dynamic responses of ectomycorrhizae to N fertilization and atmospheric CO2 enrichment at the Duke FACE experiment using minirhizotrons over a 6 year period (2005–2010). Stimulation of mycorrhizal production by elevated CO2 was observed during only 1 (2007) of 6 years. This increased the standing crop of mycorrhizal tips during 2007 and 2008; during 2008, significantly higher mortality returned standing crop to ambient levels for the remainder of the experiment. It is therefore unlikely that increased production of mycorrhizal tips can explain the lack of progressive nitrogen limitations and associated increases in N uptake observed in CO2-enriched plots at this site. Fertilization generally decreased tree reliance on mycorrhizae as tip production declined with the addition of nitrogen as has been shown in many other studies. Annual NPP of mycorrhizal tips was greatest during years with warm January temperatures and during years with cool spring temperatures. A 2 °C increase in average late spring temperatures (May and June) decreased annual production of mycorrhizal root tip length by 50%. This has important implications for ecosystem function in a warmer world in addition to potential for forest soils to sequester atmospheric C.