Root growth and physiological responses to elevated CO2 were investigated for three important Mojave Desert grasses: the C3 perennial Achnatherum hymenoides, the C4 perennial Pleuraphis rigida and the C3 annual Bromus madritensis ssp. rubens. Seeds of each species were grown at ambient (360 ??l l-1) or elevated (1000 ??l l-1) CO2 in a glasshouse and harvested at three phenological stages: vegetative, anthesis and seed fill. Because P. rigida did not flower during the course of this study, harvests for this species represent three vegetative stages. Primary productivity was increased in both Ca grasses in response to elevated CO2 (40 and 19% for A. hymenoides and B. rubens, respectively), but root biomass increased only in the C3 perennial grass. Neither above-ground nor below-ground biomass of the C4 perennial grass was significantly affected by the CO2 treatment. Elevated CO2 did not significantly affect root surface area for any species. Total plant nitrogen was also not statistically different between CO2 treatments for any species, indicating no enhanced uptake of N under elevated CO2. Physiological uptake capacities for NO3 and NH4 were not affected by the CO2 treatment during the second harvest; measurements were not made for the first harvest. However, at the third harvest uptake capacity was significantly decreased in response to elevated CO2 for at least one N form in each species. NO3 uptake rates were lower in A. hymenoides and P. rigida, and NH4 uptake rates were lower in B. rubens at elevated CO2. Nitrogen uptake on a whole root-system basis (NO3 + NH4 uptake capacity x root biomass) was influenced positively by elevated CO2 only for A. hymenoides after anthesis. These results suggest that elevated CO2 may result in a competitive advantage for A. hymenoides relative to species that do not increase root-system N uptake capacity. Root respiration measurements normalized to 20??C were not significantly affected by the CO2 treatment. However, specific root respiration was significantly correlated with either root C:N ratio or root water content when all data per species were included within a simple regression model. The results of this study provide little evidence for up-regulation of root physiology in response to elevated CO2 and indicate that root biomass responses to CO2 are species-specific.
Additional publication details
Root growth and function of three Mojave Desert grasses in response to elevated atmospheric CO2 concentration