- 1Tropospheric ozone (O3) and carbon dioxide (CO2) are significant drivers of plant growth and chemical composition. We hypothesized that exposure to elevated concentrations of O3 and CO2, singly and in combination, would modify the chemical composition of Trifolium and thus alter its digestibility and nutritive quality for ruminant herbivores.
- 2We tested our hypothesis by collecting samples of Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) and White Clover (Trifolium repens) from the understoreys of Trembling Aspen (Populus tremuloides)–Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) communities that had been exposed since 1998 to ambient air, elevated CO2, elevated O3 or elevated CO2 + O3 at the Aspen Free-Air CO2 and O3 Enrichment (FACE) site located near Rhinelander, WI, USA. Foliage samples were analysed for (1) concentrations of N, total cell wall constituents, lignin and soluble phenolics; and (2) in vitro dry-matter digestibility (IVDMD) and in vitro cell-wall digestibility (IVCWD) using batch cultures of ruminal micro-organisms.
- 3Significant air-treatment effects were observed for lignin concentration, IVDMD and IVCWD, and between Red and White Clover for all dependent variables. No air treatment × clover species interactions were detected.
- 4Exposure to elevated O3 resulted in increased concentration of lignin and decreased IVDMD and IVCWD compared with exposure to ambient air, and the response was similar regardless of whether plants had been coexposed to elevated CO2. Exposure to elevated CO2 alone did not affect chemical composition or in vitro digestibility, nor did it ameliorate the negative effect of elevated O3 on these determinants of nutritive quality for ruminant herbivores.
- 5In contrast to recent reports of a protective effect of elevated CO2 against growth reduction in plants under O3 stress, our results indicate that elevated CO2 would not be expected to ameliorate the negative impact of elevated O3 on nutritive quality of Trifolium under projected future global climate scenarios.