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Responses of trees to elevated carbon dioxide and climate change

Abstract

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.

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Fig. 1

Abbreviations

μl l−1 :

Microlitre per litre

aCO2 :

Ambient Carbon dioxide

Asat :

Light saturated photosynthetic assimilation

CO2 :

Carbon dioxide

D:

Vapour pressure deficit

eCO2 :

Elevated carbon dioxide

ET:

Evapotranspiration

FACE:

Forest-Air-Carbon dioxide-Enrichment

GPP:

Gross primary productivity

gs :

Stomatal conductance

IPCC:

International Panel on Climate Change

Jmax :

Maximum electron transport rate

LMA:

Leaf mass per unit area

mmol mol−1 :

Millimol per mol

N:

Nitrogen

NEP:

Net ecosystem productivity

NPP:

Net primary productivity

PNUE:

Plant nitrogen use efficiency

RA :

Autotrophic respiration

RH :

Heterotrophic respiration

Rubisco:

Ribulose 1,5-biphosphate carboxylase oxygenase

RuBP:

Ribulose biphosphate

t C ha−1 :

Tonnes of carbon per hectare

Tl :

Leaf temperature

Vc,max :

Maximum carboxylation velocity

VPD:

Vapour pressure deficit

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Acknowledgments

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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Correspondence to Jose Kallarackal.

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Kallarackal, J., Roby, T.J. Responses of trees to elevated carbon dioxide and climate change. Biodivers Conserv 21, 1327–1342 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-012-0254-x

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Keywords

  • Trees
  • Climate change
  • Responses
  • Carbon dioxide
  • Temperature
  • Growth
  • FACE