Does soil nitrogen influence growth, water transport and survival of snow gum (Eucalyptus pauciflora Sieber ex Sprengel.) under CO2 enrichment?


B. J. Atwell. Fax: +61 2 98508245; e-mail:


Eucalyptus pauciflora Sieber ex Sprengel. (snow gum) was grown under ambient (370 µL L−1) and elevated (700 µL L−1) atmospheric [CO2] in open-top chambers (OTCs) in the field and temperature-controlled glasshouses. Nitrogen applications to the soil ranged from 0.1 to 2.75 g N per plant. Trees in the field at high N levels grew rapidly during summer, particularly in CO2-enriched atmosphere, but suffered high mortality during summer heatwaves. Generally, wider and more numerous secondary xylem vessels at the root–shoot junction in CO2-enriched trees conferred fourfold higher below-ground hydraulic conductance. Enhanced hydraulic capacity was typical of plants at elevated [CO2] (in which root and shoot growth was accelerated), but did not result from high N supply. However, because high rates of N application consistently made trees prone to dehydration during heatwaves, glasshouse studies were required to identify the effect of N nutrition on root development and hydraulics. While the effects of elevated [CO2] were again predominantly on hydraulic conductivity, N nutrition acted specifically by constraining deep root penetration into soil. Specifically, 15–40% shallower root systems supported marginally larger shoot canopies. Independent changes to hydraulics and root penetration have implications for survival of fertilized trees under elevated atmospheric [CO2], particularly during water stress.