Legume species identity and soil nitrogen supply determine symbiotic nitrogen-fixation responses to elevated atmospheric [CO2]


Author for correspondence: Jason B. West Tel: +1 801 587 3404 Fax: +1 801 581 4665 Email: jwest@biology.utah.edu


  • • In nitrogen (N)-limited systems, the response of symbiotic N fixation to elevated atmospheric [CO2] may be an important determinant of ecosystem responses to this global change. Experimental tests of the effects of elevated [CO2] have not been consistent. Although rarely tested, differences among legume species and N supply may be important.
  • • In a field free-air CO2 enrichment (FACE) experiment, we determined, for four legume species, whether the effects of elevated atmospheric [CO2] on symbiotic N fixation depended on soil N availability or species identity. Natural abundance and pool-dilution 15N methods were used to estimate N fixation.
  • • Although N addition did, in general, decrease N fixation, contrary to theoretical predictions, elevated [CO2] did not universally increase N fixation. Rather, the effect of elevated [CO2] on N fixation was positive, neutral or negative, depending on the species and N addition.
  • • Our results suggest that legume species identity and N supply are critical factors in determining symbiotic N-fixation responses to increased atmospheric [CO2].