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ARS Home » Plains Area » Fort Collins, Colorado » Center for Agricultural Resources Research » Rangeland Resources & Systems Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #346119

Title: Elevated CO2 induces substantial and persistent declines in forage digestibility and protein content irrespective of warming in mixed-grass prairie

item Augustine, David
item Blumenthal, Dana
item Springer, Timothy
item Lecain, Daniel
item Gunter, Stacey
item Derner, Justin

Submitted to: Society for Range Management Meeting Abstracts
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 10/31/2017
Publication Date: 2/9/2018
Citation: Augustine, D.J., Blumenthal, D.M., Springer, T.L., Lecain, D.R., Gunter, S.A., Derner, J.D. 2018. Elevated CO2 induces substantial and persistent declines in forage digestibility and protein content irrespective of warming in mixed-grass prairie. Society for Range Management Meeting Abstracts. abs.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: Increasing atmospheric [CO2] and temperature are expected to affect the productivity, species composition, biogeochemistry, and therefore the quantity and quality of forage available to herbivores in rangeland ecosystems. Both elevated CO2 (eCO2) and warming affect plant tissue chemistry through multiple direct and indirect pathways, such that the cumulative outcomes of these effects are difficult to predict. Here, we report on a 7-year study examining effects of CO2 enrichment (to 600 ppm) and infrared warming (+1.5°C day/3°C night) under realistic field conditions on forage quality and quantity in a semiarid, mixed-grass prairie. For the 3 dominant forage grasses, warming effects on in vitro dry matter digestibility (IVDMD) and tissue [N] were detected only in certain years, varied from negative to positive, and were relatively minor. In contrast, eCO2 substantially reduced IVDMD (2 most abundant grasses) and [N] (all 3 grass species) in most years, except the two wettest years. Furthermore, eCO2 reduced IVDMD and [N] independent of warming effects. Reduced IVDMD with eCO2 was related both to reduced [N] and increased acid detergent fiber content of grass tissues. For the 6 most abundant forage species (representing 96% of total forage production), combined warming+eCO2 increased forage production by 38% and reduced forage [N] by 13% relative to ambient climate. While the absolute magnitude of the decline in IVDMD and [N] due to combined warming+eCO2 may seem small (e.g. from 63.3 to 61.1% IVDMD and 1.25 to 1.04% [N] for P. smithii), such shifts could have substantial consequences for the rate at which ruminants gain weight during the primary growing season in the largest remaining rangeland ecosystem in North America. With forage production increases, declining forage quality could potentially be mitigated by increasing stocking rates, and through management such as prescribed burning, fertilization at low rates, and legume interseeding to enhance forage quality.