Productivity and water use of wheat under free-air CO2 enrichment


Bruce A. Kimball, tel +1–602–379–4356, fax +1–602–379–355, e-mail


A free-air CO2 enrichment (FACE) experiment was conducted at Maricopa, Arizona, on wheat from December 1992 through May 1993. The FACE apparatus maintained the CO2 concentration, [CO2], at 550 μmol mol−1 across four replicate 25-m-diameter circular plots under natural conditions in an open field. Four matching Control plots at ambient [CO2] (about 370 μmol mol−1) were also installed in the field. In addition to the two levels of [CO2], there were ample (Wet) and limiting (Dry) levels of water supplied through a subsurface drip irrigation system in a strip, split-plot design.

Measurements were made of net radiation, Rn; soil heat flux, Go; soil temperature; foliage or surface temperature; air dry and wet bulb temperatures; and wind speed. Sensible heat flux, H, was calculated from the wind and temperature measurements. Latent heat flux, λET, and evapotranspiration, ET, were determined as the residual in the energy balance. The FACE treatment reduced daily total Rn by an average 4%. Daily FACE sensible heat flux, H, was higher in the FACE plots. Daily latent heat flux, λET, and evapotranspiration, ET, were consistently lower in the FACE plots than in the Control plots for most of the growing season, about 8% on the average.

Net canopy photosynthesis was stimulated by an average 19 and 44% in the Wet and Dry plots, respectively, by elevated [CO2] for most of the growing season. No significant acclimation or down regulation was observed. There was little above-ground growth response to elevated [CO2] early in the season when temperatures were cool. Then, as temperatures warmed into spring, the FACE plants grew about 20% more than the Control plants at ambient [CO2], as shown by above-ground biomass accumulation. Root biomass accumulation was also stimulated about 20%. In May the FACE plants matured and senesced about a week earlier than the Controls in the Wet plots. The FACE plants averaged 0.6 °C warmer than the Controls from February through April in the well-watered plots, and we speculate that this temperature rise contributed to the earlier maturity. Because of the acceleration of senescence, there was a shortening of the duration of grain filling, and consequently, there was a narrowing of the final biomass and yield differences. The 20% mid-season growth advantage of FACE shrunk to about an 8% yield advantage in the Wet plots, while the yield differences between FACE and Control remained at about 20% in the Dry plots.