Responses to Elevated Carbon Dioxide in Artificial Tropical Ecosystems

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Science  18 Sep 1992:
Vol. 257, Issue 5077, pp. 1672-1675
DOI: 10.1126/science.257.5077.1672


Carbon, nutrient, and water balance as well as key plant and soil processes were simultaneously monitored for humid tropical plant communities treated with CO2-enriched atmospheres. Despite vigorous growth, no significant differences in stand biomass (of both the understory and overstory), leaf area index, nitrogen or water consumption, or leaf stomatal behavior were detected between ambient and elevated CO2 treatments. Major responses under elevated CO2 included massive starch accumulation in the tops of canopies, increased fine-root production, and a doubling of CO2 evolution from the soil. Stimulated rhizosphere activity was accompanied by increased loss of soil carbon and increased mineral nutrient leaching. This study points at the inadequacy of scaling-up from physiological baselines to ecosystems without accounting for interactions among components, and it emphasizes the urgent need for whole-system experimental approaches in global-change research.