Temporal dynamics of fine roots under long-term exposure to elevated CO2 in the Mojave Desert


Author for correspondence: Derek L. Sonderegger Tel: +1 970 231 7679 Email: derek.sonderegger@nau.edu


  • Deserts are considered 'below-ground dominated', yet little is known about the impact of rising CO2 in combination with natural weather cycles on long-term dynamics of root biomass. This study quantifies the temporal dynamics of fine-root production, loss and standing crop in an intact desert ecosystem exposed to 10 yr of elevated CO2.
  • We used monthly minirhizotron observations from 4 yr (2003–2007) for two dominant shrub species and along community transects at the Nevada Desert free-air CO2 enrichment Facility. Data were synthesized within a Bayesian framework that included effects of CO2 concentration, cover type, phenological period, antecedent soil water and biological inertia (i.e. the influence of prior root production and loss).
  • Elevated CO2 treatment interacted with antecedent soil moisture and had significantly greater effects on fine-root dynamics during certain phenological periods. With respect to biological inertia, plants under elevated CO2 tended to initiate fine-root growth sooner and sustain growth longer, with the net effect of increasing the magnitude of production and mortality cycles.
  • Elevated CO2 interacts with past environmental (e.g. antecedent soil water) and biological (e.g. biological inertia) factors to affect fine-root dynamics, and such interactions are expected to be important for predicting future soil carbon pools.