Altered root traits due to elevated CO2: a meta-analysis


  • Editor: Navin Ramankutty

Correspondence: Ming Nie, 1000 E. University Ave. #3165, Laramie, WY 82071, USA.


Elise Pendall, 1000 E. University Ave. #3165, Laramie, WY 82071, USA.




Plant root traits regulate belowground C inputs, soil nutrient and water uptake, and play critical roles in determining sustainable plant production and consequences for ecosystem C storage. However, the effects of elevated CO2 on root morphology and function have not been well quantified. We reveal general patterns of root trait responses to elevated CO2 from field manipulative experiments.


North America, Europe, Oceania, Asia.


The meta-analysis approach was used to examine the effects of CO2 elevation on 17 variables associated with root morphology, biomass size and distribution, C and N concentrations and pools, turnover and fungal colonization from 110 published studies.


Elevated CO2 increased root length (+26.0%) and diameter (+8.4%). Elevated CO2 also stimulated total root (+28.8%), fine root (+27.7%) and coarse root biomass (+25.3%), demonstrating strong responses of root morphology and biomass. Elevated CO2 increased the root:shoot ratio (+8.5%) and decreased the proportion of roots in the topsoil (–8.4%), suggesting that plants expand rooting systems. In addition, elevated CO2 decreased N concentration (–7.1%), but did not affect C concentration, and thus increased the C:N ratio (+7.8%). Root C (+29.3%) increased disproportionately relative to root N pools (+9.4%) under elevated CO2. Functional traits were also strongly affected by elevated CO2, which increased respiration (+58.9%), rhizodeposition (+37.9%) and fungal colonization (+3.3%).

Main conclusions

These results suggest that elevated CO2 promoted root morphological development, root system expansion and C input to soils, implying that the sensitive responses of root morphology and function to elevated CO2 would increase long-term belowground C sequestration.