Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 21, Issue 5, pp 1327–1342 | Cite as

Responses of trees to elevated carbon dioxide and climate change

Original Paper


The enhancement in photosynthesis at elevated concentration of carbon dioxide level than the ambient level existing in the atmosphere is widely known. However, many of the earlier studies were based on instantaneous responses of plants grown in pots. The availability of field chambers for growing trees, and long-term exposure studies of tree species to elevated carbon dioxide, has changed much of our views on carbon dioxide acting as a fertiliser. Several tree species showed acclimation or even down-regulation of photosynthetic responses while a few of them showed higher photosynthesis and better growth responses. Whether elevated levels of carbon dioxide can serve as a fertilizer in a changed climate scenario still remains an unresolved question. Forest-Air-Carbon dioxide-Enrichment (FACE) sites monitored at several locations have shown lately, that the acclimation or down regulation as reported in chamber studies is not as wide-spread as originally thought. FACE studies predict that there could be an increase of 23–28% productivity of trees at least till 2050. However, the increase in global temperature could also lead to increased respiration, and limitation of minerals in the soil could lead to reduced responses in growth. Elevated carbon dioxide induces partial closure of leaf stomata, which could lead to reduced transpiration and more economical use of water by the trees. Even if the carbon dioxide acts as a fertilizer, the responses are more pronounced only in young trees. And if there are variations in species responses to growth due to elevated carbon dioxide, only some species are going to dominate the natural vegetation. This will have serious implications on the biodiversity and the structure of the ecosystems. This paper reviews the research done on trees using elevated CO2 and tries to draw conclusions based on different methods used for the study. It also discusses the possible functional variations in some tree species due to climate change.


Trees Climate change Responses Carbon dioxide Temperature Growth FACE 


μl l−1

Microlitre per litre


Ambient Carbon dioxide


Light saturated photosynthetic assimilation


Carbon dioxide


Vapour pressure deficit


Elevated carbon dioxide




Forest-Air-Carbon dioxide-Enrichment


Gross primary productivity


Stomatal conductance


International Panel on Climate Change


Maximum electron transport rate


Leaf mass per unit area

mmol mol−1

Millimol per mol




Net ecosystem productivity


Net primary productivity


Plant nitrogen use efficiency


Autotrophic respiration


Heterotrophic respiration


Ribulose 1,5-biphosphate carboxylase oxygenase


Ribulose biphosphate

t C ha−1

Tonnes of carbon per hectare


Leaf temperature


Maximum carboxylation velocity


Vapour pressure deficit



We are grateful to the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, New Delhi for funding support. I thank Professor Mukund Behera (IIT, Kharagpur) for inviting me to contribute this paper for the special issue.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sustainable Forest Management DivisionKerala Forest Research InstituteThrissurIndia

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