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ARS Home » Plains Area » Temple, Texas » Grassland Soil and Water Research Laboratory » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #331770

Research Project: Development and Evaluation of Sustainable Crop and Grassland Production Systems

Location: Grassland Soil and Water Research Laboratory

Title: Vegetative biomass predicts inflorescence production along a CO2 concentration gradient in mesic grassland

item Fay, Philip
item Collins, Harold - Hal
item Polley, Wayne

Submitted to: American Geophysical Union
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 10/1/2016
Publication Date: 12/12/2016
Citation: Fay, P.A., Collins, H.P., Polley, H.W. 2016. Vegetative biomass predicts inflorescence production along a CO2 concentration gradient in mesic grassland. In: Proceedings of the American Geophysical Union Annual Meeting, December 12-16, 2016, San Francisco, California. 2016 CDROM.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: Atmospheric CO2 concentration will likely exceed 500 uL L-1 by 2050, often increasing plant community productivity in part by increasing abundance of species favored by increased CA. Whether increased abundance translates to increased inflorescence production is poorly understood, and is important because it indicates the potential effects of CO2 enrichment on genetic variability and the potential for evolutionary change in future generations. We examined whether the responses of inflorescence production to CO2 enrichment in four C4 grasses and a C3 forb were predicted their vegetative biomass, and by soil moisture, soil nitrogen, or light availability. Inflorescence production was studied in a long-term CO2 concentration gradient spanning pre-industrial to anticipated mid-21st century values (250–500 uL L-1) maintained on clay, silty clay and sandy loam soils common in the U.S. Southern Plains. We expected that CO2 enrichment would increase inflorescence production, and more so with higher water, nitrogen, or light availability. However, structural equation modeling revealed that vegetative biomass was the single consistent direct predictor of flowering for all species (p < 0.001). Vegetative biomass increased, decreased, or did not respond to CO2 enrichment depending on the species. For the increasing species Sorghastrum nutans (C4 grass) and Solidago canadensis (C3 forb), direct CO2 effects on flowering were only weakly mediated by indirect effects of soil water content and soil NO3-N availability. For the decreasing species (Bouteloua curtipendula, C4 grass), the negative CO2-flowering relationship was cancelled (p = 0.39) by indirect effects of increased SWC and NO3-N on clay and silty clay soils. For the species with no CO2 response, inflorescence production was predicted only by direct water content (p < 0.0001, Schizachyrium scoparius, C4 grass) or vegetative biomass (p = 0.0009, Tridens albescens, C4 grass) effects. Light availability was unrelated to inflorescence production. Changes in inflorescence production are thus closely tied to direct and indirect effects of CO2 enrichment on vegetative biomass, and may either increase, decrease, or leave unchanged the potential for genetic variability and evolutionary change in future generations in response to global change drivers.