Architectural and physiological mechanisms of reduced size inequality in CO2-enriched stands of common ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia)


Kristina Stinson, Harvard Forest, 324 North Main Street, Petersham, MA 01366, USA, fax +1 978 724 3595, e-mail:


Testing whether and how subordinate individuals differ from dominants in the utilization of enriched CO2 atmospheres is important for understanding future stand and community structure. We hypothesized that subordinate and dominant Ambrosia artemisiifolia L. (Asteraceae) (common ragweed) plants growing in dense stands would not equally acquire or utilize carbon gains from CO2-enrichment, and that the resulting disproportionate growth gains to subordinates would reduce size inequalities in competing stands. We grew experimental stands of A. artemisiifolia in either ambient (360 μL L−1) or twice ambient (720 μL L−1) levels of atmospheric CO2. We compared the relative growth, photosynthetic capacity, and architecture of subordinate and dominant plants in each treatment, and assessed size inequalities using the stand-level coefficient of variation (CV). In elevated CO2, plants grew larger, but subordinate plants shifted more mass to upper stem allocation than dominants. Dominant plants demonstrated reduced leaf-level photosynthetic gains in elevated CO2 compared with subordinate plants. Reduced CVs in plant size reflected smaller proportional growth gains by dominants over subordinates in elevated vs. ambient stands. We conclude that differences in the architectural and physiological responses of subordinate and dominant ragweed plants reduce competition and allow subordinate plants to catch up to dominants in elevated CO2 conditions.