Nord EA, RE Jaramillo, JP Lynch


Frontiers in Plant Ecology, Feb 2015

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Soils vary widely in mineral nutrient availability and physical characteristics, but the influence of this variability on plant responses to elevated CO2 remains poorly understood. As a first approximation of the effect of global soil variability on plant growth response to CO2, we evaluated the effect of CO2 on tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea) grown in soils representing 10 of the 12 global soil orders plus a high-fertility control. Plants were grown in small pots in continuously stirred reactor tanks in a greenhouse. Elevated CO2 (800 ppm) increased plant biomass in the high-fertility control and in two of the more fertile soils. Elevated CO2 had variable effects on foliar mineral concentration - nitrogen was not altered by elevated CO2, and phosphorus and potassium were only affected by CO2 in a small number of soils. While leaf photosynthesis was stimulated by elevated CO2 in six soils, shoot photosynthesis was not stimulated. Four principle components explained 65% of the variability in the data; the first was associated with foliar minerals and soil clay, and the second with soil acidity and foliar manganese concentration. The third principle component was associated with gas exchange measurements, and the fourth with plant biomass and soil minerals. Soils in which tall fescue did not respond to elevated CO2 account for 83% of global land area. These results show that variation in soil physical and chemical properties have important implications for plant responses to global change, and highlight the need to consider soil variability in models of vegetation response to global change.