Higher carbon dioxide, lack of nitrogen limit plant growth
"We found that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels may rise even faster than anticipated, because ecosystems likely will not store as much carbon as had been predicted," said Peter Reich of the University of Minnesota, lead author of the study, which was conducted at the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Cedar Creek Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) site in Minn.
"As a result, soils will be unable to sustain plant growth over time [as atmospheric carbon dioxide continues to increase]," said plant ecologist David Ellsworth of the University of Michigan.
Estimating the role of terrestrial ecosystems as current and future sinks--or storage places--for excess carbon dioxide hinges on an ability to understand the complex interaction between atmospheric carbon dioxide and nitrogen in soils, the scientists believe.
The six-year study, the longest of its kind, sheds light on the relationship between carbon dioxide emissions and plant productivity. In the experiment, scientists grew 16 different grassland plants in 296 field plots. The plots were exposed to both ambient and elevated carbon dioxide levels, and varying levels of nitrogen.
|Scientists study purple lupines and other flowers and grasses in an experimental plot (Photo: Jason West, University of Minnesota)|
The Minn. study, with its range of species, provides a broad test of carbon dioxide and nitrogen interactions, said Reich. Previous studies have been done with a single or a few plant species.
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