Towards a better experimental basis for upscaling plant responses to elevated CO2 and climate warming

Authors

  • Ch. KÖRNER

    Corresponding author
    1. Institute of Botany, University of Basel, Schönbeinstr. 6, CH-4056 Basel, Switzerland
      Ch. Körner, Institute of Botany, University of Basel, Schönbeinstr. 6, CH-4056 Basel, Switzerland.
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Ch. Körner, Institute of Botany, University of Basel, Schönbeinstr. 6, CH-4056 Basel, Switzerland.

ABSTRACT

Few of the most common assumptions used in models of responses of plants and ecosystems to elevated CO2 and climate warming have been tested under realistic life con-ditions. It is shown that some unexpected discrepancies between predictions and experimental findings exist, suggesting that a better empirical basis is required for predictions. The following ten suggestions may improve our potential to scale up from experimental scales to the real world.

(1) Experiments should be timed to account for non-linearity in system responsiveness, asynchrony of responses and developmental differences. (2) By altering mineral nutrient supply, a wide range of CO2 responses can be ‘produced’, thus requiring realistic soil conditions. (3) Distinctions should be made between ‘doubling CO2 sup-ply’ and biologically effective degrees of CO2 enrichment. (4) Because of the non-linearity of plant responses to CO2, studies of at least three instead of two CO2 concentrations are necessary to describe future trends adequately. (5) Edge effects, in particular unscreened side light, may lead to allometric anomalies, strongly constraining up-scaling to stand-scale CO2 responses. (6) Variables such as growth, yield, net primary production and C turnover are often confused with carbon pools, carbon sequestration or net ecosystem production. (7) Mono- and interspecific interactions between individuals may lead to completely unpredictable CO2 responses. (8) Experiments with seedlings benefit from the absence of prehistory effects but are likely to be irrelevant for the responses of larger trees which, on the other hand, may be constrained by carry-over effects. Tree ring research indicates immediate sensitivity of large trees to environmental changes, supporting their usefulness in short-term CO2-enrichment experiments. (9) In predicting temperature responses, acclimation deserves more attention. (10) The significance of developmental responses is largely under-represented in experimental research, although these responses may overrule many of the other effects of atmospheric change. Results of more realistic experiments which account for these problems will provide a better basis for modelling the future of the biosphere.

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