The effects of elevated CO2 and temperature on the resistance of winter-dormant birch seedlings (Betula pendula) to hares and voles


K. Kuokkanen, e-mail:


The effects of elevated CO2 and temperature on the resource allocation pattern and resistance against mammalian herbivores of silver birch (Betula pendula Roth) were studied. Birch seedlings were grown through two growing seasons in closed-top chambers exposed to four different treatments: ambient CO2 and temperature, elevated atmospheric CO2 (700 ppm) and ambient temperature, elevated temperature (+3°C above ambient) and ambient CO2, and a combination of elevated CO2 and temperature. After winter hardening of the seedlings, the growth of the seedlings was measured and the concentration of secondary compounds such as phenolics and papyriferic acid determined. The top parts of the stem were fed to hares, and the basal parts of the same stems were offered to voles.

Elevated CO2 increased the height and basal diameter of the shoots, shoot biomass and total biomass of the seedlings but did not have any effect on secondary chemistry. Elevated temperature increased the height and shoot biomass, but did not have a significant effect on the total biomass of the seedlings. Elevated temperature decreased the concentration of condensed tannins and their precursor, (+)-catechin, in the top part of the stems, but only the concentration of (+)-catechin in the basal part of the stems. There were no significant interactive effects between CO2 and temperature on phenolics in the stems, while the concentration of papyriferic acid showed significant interaction in the top part of the stems. This indicates high accumulation of papyriferic acid in ambient CO2 under increased temperature. Consequently, elevated temperature increased the resistance of birch against hares, but did not affect the resistance of the basal parts of the same birches to voles. Our results indicate that the predicted climatic change will not necessarily lead to increased browsing damage by the mountain hare and the field vole to silver birch.