How does rising atmospheric CO2 affect marine organisms?

Click to locate material archived on our website by topic

C4 Plants Not Always the Poorest Responders to Atmospheric CO2 Enrichment
Volume 10, Number 3: 17 January 2007

Historically, C4 plants have typically been found to be less responsive than C3 plants to experimentally-induced increases in the air's CO2 concentration; and at times they have been found to be almost totally unresponsive, in terms of both their photosynthetic and biomass production rates. However, the materials we have archived under C4 Plants (Biomass and Photosynthesis) in our Subject Index indicate that a total lack of response of C4 plants to atmospheric CO2 enrichment is highly unusual. And now, in the recently published study of Tang et al. (2006) - conducted under conditions of low soil phosphorus (P) content - a group of three C4 grasses has been found to actually have responded better than a group of three C3 grasses.

The three researchers from China's Zhejiang University grew the three C3 grasses (Poa annua L., Lolium perenne L., Avena fatua L.) and the three C4 grasses (Echinochloa crusgalli var. mitis (L.) Beauv., Eleusine indica (L.), Setaria glauca (L.) P. Beauv.) from seed to maturity under well watered conditions within controlled-environment chambers (maintained at a mean atmospheric CO2 concentration of either 350 or 700 ppm) in pots containing 2.5 kg of soil that was low in extractable P content. Under these conditions, total aboveground plus belowground plant biomass was enhanced by an average of 9.92% due to the doubling of the air's CO2 concentration in the group of C3 grasses, but by an average of 12.27% by the doubling of the air's CO2 concentration in the group of C4 grasses.

So how did it happen that the CO2-induced growth response of the C4 grasses was nearly 25% greater than that of the C3 grasses (12.27% / 9.92% = 1.24)?

Tang et al. report that the C3 grasses they studied had low mycorrhizal colonization and that atmospheric CO2 enrichment did not significantly enhance this beneficial symbiosis, whereas injecting extra CO2 into the air did enhance mycorrhizal colonization in the C4 grasses. In addition, they say they observed "a positive correlation between mycorrhizal colonization rate and shoot P concentration, and between the increase in mycorrhizal colonization rate and the increase in total P uptake under elevated CO2," which findings they interpreted as suggesting that "mycorrhizae might enlarge P uptake for plants that have high mycorrhizal colonization and then promote host-plant growth response to elevated CO2." Or as they describe the situation in another place in their paper, "the C4 grasses ... used in our experiment were also significant mycorrhizal hosts and their mycorrhizal colonization was significantly stimulated by elevated CO2," which suggested to them that this situation may "promote the total P uptake of the C4 grass in low P soil and enhance the C4 grasses' response to CO2 enrichment."

As an added "bonus," so to speak, Tang et al. had also included three C3 forbs (Veronica didyma Ten., Plantago virginica L., Gnaphalium affine D.Don.) in their study, as well as three legumes (Vicia cracca L., Medicago lupulina L., Kummerowia striata (Thunb.) Schindl.), both of which plant groups responded better to the researchers' enriching of the air about them with CO2 than did the two groups of grasses. The C3 forbs, for example, exhibited a mean biomass increase of 35.61%, while the legumes exhibited a mean biomass increase of 41.48%. Of these latter champion responders, the researchers wrote that they too "had high levels of mycorrhizae, and their mycorrhizal symbionts were stimulated greatly by CO2." And they again noted that the "higher enhanced total P uptake of legumes under elevated CO2 concentrations implies that mycorrhizae may facilitate P uptake and enhance legume response to elevated CO2."

Sherwood, Keith and Craig Idso

Tang, J., Chen, J. and Chen, X. Response of 12 weedy species to elevated CO2 in low-phosphorus-availability soil. Ecological Research 21: 664-670.